Why not make a sex tape?
That question popped into my head sometime around one in the morning while I was holed up in a drafty warehouse printing the human genome. In practice, printing the human genome meant a whole lot of time sitting around between swapping in new rolls of tape every hour and fifteen minutes. And that meant a whole lot of time to watch a whole lot of great bad movies and to think up a whole lot of great bad ideas.
And maybe I was a little sleep deprived. Certainly a little lonely. Probably a little horny too. But at that moment, creating a sex tape didn’t seem all that unreasonable. I mean compared to printing DNA, it’d be easy! Plus, if a sex tape worked for the Hulkster, it stood to reason one would work for me too. Why not indeed?
However, lacking the requisite serial cable…
That’s how the story started. That’s how it always starts.
Now I’m here trying to tell you what happened between that night late last spring and today. It’s the story of a sex tape. Well not a sex tape actually, rather Sex Tapes™ and not like you’re thinking either. Because, for one, it involves a punch machine. Kinky!
But no; actually it’s not going to be like that either.
Sex Tapes began as just another one of my fun projects. Maybe you know the sort. I planned to post a few pictures of it, maybe write a few paragraph about creating it. The typical. But at some point while working on all that, I realized that the project just wasn’t all that interesting. Yes, even with a great punny name like Sex Tapes.
So I changed things up. Instead of presenting Sex Tapes, I’d decided to try telling the story of how Sex Tapes went down. I guess we can call that story Sex Tapes V2. And, for a while at least, Sex Tapes V2 seemed to be shaping up nicely. It really had it all: comedy, action, romance, plus some unreal punnage.
But then I stalled. Only a third of the way into Sex Tape V2, I hit a creative dead end: out of jokes and not sure where to go next. Worse, the longer I stalled the more I grew to hate what I’d already written. It was too clean. Too easy. Too safe. Was this really all I had to say?
Somehow this stupid little project had actually started to mean something to me. Somehow it had become personal. Maybe too personal. I realized that Sex Tapes was forcing me to confront issues that I’d been more than happy to breeze over in my previous work: ideas of masculinity, sexuality, all that. To make matters worse, the more I thought about why I was working on Sex Tapes and what it meant to me, the less certain it all seemed. The more I wrote, the less sure I felt I should be writing any of it in the first place.
The draft of Sex Tapes was a mess and I didn’t know how to fix it. And that really bothered me. I almost gave up. But then it struck me: maybe a mess was exactly what was called for. Why try to hide all the uncertainty and complexity? All the contradictions? All the self-doubt? That’s all what made Sex Tapes interesting after all.
(Man, reading a mess like that sure sounds like a barrel of fun, doesn’t it? Lucky you.)
So I took the unfinished story from Sex Tapes V2, broke it up and spliced in a whole bunch of nonsense: quotes, memories, pop culture, commentary. Let’s call that Sex Tapes V3. That’s this, more or less at least.
My hope is that all of this will come together to give you an idea of what Sex Tapes was all about and why it mattered to me. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. I don’t know. All I’ll say is that I’ve tried to keep this thing more or less honest, even when it looks like I’m telling a joke. Let’s see how it goes.
The first thing you gotta understand: the human genome is big. Like really big! I printed 1.5% of it on paper tape and it filled up a room.
Why print the human genome? Why not? Seemed like a good idea at the time at least.
There was a performance aspect to it too. It was an impossible task. That was the point. I liked the absurdity of it.
This personal human genome project is what introduced me to paper tape. I picked up a pair of punches that were made in the 1980s and managed to hook them up to a modern computer. Then I spent a month physically printing the human genome, which—as I mentioned—not only gave me a lot of time to watch bad movies but also a lot of time to think. And the question I kept coming back to: what next?
Because while replicating DNA alone was fun and all, I knew the project also played to my strengths. I’ve gotten pretty good at pulling off moderately complex projects like that by myself. For my next project though, I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted something that would require collaboration. Something that would force me to put myself out there in the real world.
Plus there was the matter of what to do with all the left over paper tape…
I knew from the start that I wanted to call my next project Sex Tapes. A pun like that was simply too good to pass up. What was less clear though was what the project should be about. I guess that was important too.
My first thought: look at how DNA is recombined in sexual reproduction. It was an obvious evolution from the DNA printing project. I could have each punch print a segment of DNA from two different individuals, then combine the tapes into a new sequence. My thought was that by stripping away all the ostentations, I could make it clear what the whole reproduction business is really all about. Plus, it’d be fun to see what sort of mutations would be introduced during the recombination process. No telling what kind of mutated sub-humanoids my little art project would be churning out. Like playing God! (on paper at least)
However, was that really going far enough? Was undertaking another genetic project by myself really what I wanted? Kind of misses the point, doesn’t it?
And here is where the next mutation of Sex Tapes occurred, one that would send the project down a very different evolutionary track indeed.
It opens with Hulk Hogan
performing oral sex
on the woman as she lays on the bed.
It was so obvious! Why it was right there in the name in fact: sex! Not some abstracted version of the act, nor some detached impersonal performance, but real sex—except still, you know, using paper tape. So then, the obvious next question: just how would that paper tape and those punch machines come into play?
Naturally, my first thought was to connect the punch machines up to vibrators. Not the most original idea perhaps, but it’d get the job done. If that worked, then maybe I could produce reels of tape that capture different vibration patterns! Almost like cassettes or reels of film! Or maybe, I could record a real sexual experience onto the paper tape and then play that back! That would be fun. How would it work though…?
Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself. After all, I still wasn’t even sure about the casting. For although an evening alone with Monsieur Punch could undoubtedly be romantic, I admittedly am a traditionalist in my belief that a proper sex tape requires two or more human participants, just like it says in the Bible God damn it!
Still, it was tempting to take myself out of the equation entirely. I knew I could find two progressional participants and stage a performance. Ideally a performance at the Museum of Communications in Seattle. The two actors would each have their own tape machine that was linked to their partner’s vibrator, and they’d play out a sexual encounter entirely by feeding different tape patterns into their machines. Oh yeah, getting kinky again!
Yet on second thought, maybe it really should be a video instead of a performance. I could see it: the actors wearing outfits straight out of a music video by Devo or The Residents to create a surreal porno from a retro-styled future. A little erotic perhaps but not explicit. The ultimate sex tape!
It sure sounded great in my head. Maybe too great. And perhaps still a little too safe too. I’d done something like that before, which was fun, but now I wanted to try something new. A performance, but not one on the stage. No actors. Not set. No coordination. Just an event out in the real world. Or no, not an event: a hookup! The ultimate hookup!!!
And finding a second human for this newfangled ménage à trois would prove to be the chief difficulty of this little adventure.
Paper tape was an old data storage mechanism that stored data by punching holes into rolls of paper; imagine a cross between a cassette reel and punch cards.
A secondary goal of mine is to create a really stupid pun. You see, I'm thinking of calling the project "Sex Tapes". You have to admit that's a pretty stupid pun.
As you can see, I don't take myself too seriously. However this project actually makes me pretty nervous. I'm challenging myself to try creating this out here in the real world but that means there are a lot of unknowns. Let's see how it goes!
For me, beyond any pretensions about examining the impact of technology on human intimacy or whatever, the idea of two people getting together for an indirect sexual encounter using a paper tape machine just makes me smile. I'm not going to pretend either: this project is not going to be sensual or even very physically stimulating. That's not the point.
So if you are curious, let's chat so I can answer any questions and perhaps discuss how we can make this "Sex Tapes" project a reality.
I remember how difficult it was to find a place for the dna print project. I thought I would just be able to rent out a storefront for a month, but all commercial renters I called were like: “wait, so how do you plan to make money by printing the human genome on paper tape?”
Kind of disheartening to see those same storefronts still sitting empty a year later. I know there’s probably insurance risks and whatnot, but still…
Look: I know this is like the seventh time (or something) I’ve connected strange machines to vibrators, but this is totally not a thing. This is totally not something I’m into in that way. I totally do not have some kind of paper tape or vintage computer fetish! Honest.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that mind you. For if you’ve got a thing for vacuum tube erotica or stock ticker bondage or hardcore core memory wiring, great! It’s just that I feel the whole fetish angle oversimplifies what Sex Tapes was all about.
For first consider what a fetish is. While the sexual connotation of the word is what you are likely familiar with, the word fetish is not all gimps and gags; it has anthropological roots. Colonial European scholars for example write of tribal fetishism, in which an object like an amulet is imbued with a supernatural powers, say the power to protect its owner. Neither is Christianity above fetishization either, with its granting of special significance to crucifixes, fragments of the supposed bones of saints, and even water.
The key is belief. The fetish object does not have special powers. Science cannot prove that the water of Lourdes can cure cancer, nor can a crucifix perform miracles or even ward off vampires. And, just as importantly, a fetish is learned. As far as I know, humans are not instinctively drawn to crucifixes.
Sexual fetishes have many of the same characteristics. I doubt for example that anyone is born hardwired to fancy leather or smoking or whatever; those objects and activities are imbued with their perceived powers through learned association. Nor, no matter what the fetishists may claim, do those objects and activities have any real power.
I find some of Freud’s theories on sexual fetishes plausible. No, not the part where he concludes that, “we may say that the normal prototype of fetishes is a man’s penis, just as the normal prototype of inferior organs is a woman’s real small penis, the clitoris.” (Indeed that point of view seems more like an expression of a certain someone’s penis fetish than anything else.) But Freud also argues that sexual fetishization often take something uncomfortable—perhaps the subconsciously uncomfortable—and makes it manageable, makes it safer. Fetishization is almost a form of domestication: taking scary, savage realities and transferring them to much more manageable objects and activities. And if transference is not enough, a fetish can be built around embracing the uncomfortable itself—e.g. humiliation, domination, various bodily fluids, and so on—yet again, always in a controlled manner. And from this vantage, can you not begin to sympathize? For say one cannot come to terms with the uncomfortably bestial nature of sexual attraction and of the sexual act itself, why then getting all gussied up in your finest furs and chasing vulpes vulpes is actually a quite cultured, perhaps downright civilized, solution to an intractable existential quandary.
But back to the matter at hand.
While Sex Tapes has some of the trappings of a sexual fetish—the strange device, the unequal sexual roles, the concept of trust exchange—it lacked the fantasy. It lacked the belief. For me, the machine was always just a prop. The interaction, more of a performance. And while I do generally find ideas of trust exchange interesting, using paper tape seems like a rather circuitous approach to that matter.
Nor did I ever fantasize about a paper tape hookup. Indeed, I was nervous pretty much from the start of the project to its completion. And while completing the project was satisfying, it was not satisfying in that way. Plus, I’m certainly not hankering for another round.
Instead, I believe that most of my projects about sex are, in one way or another, expressions. They attempt to express a feeling or emotion, much the same way that a sex scene in a film can express a sense of sexuality even when the production of the scene itself is decidedly not sexy. For the Theremin-X project for example, I was exploring the sensuality of music as well as the relationship between the performer and their audience. For The organismic power of a clear blue sky, it was all about relating to the world differently and exploring an interesting take on the experience of beauty.
And so what exactly was I trying to express with Sex Tapes? Both in the project itself and now in this write-up? I guess that’s what I’m trying to find out.
Hulk and the woman engage in more chit-chat and Bubba’s name is mentioned.
The woman says “We just fucked earlier today.”
Hulk asks “Who? You and Bubba?”
She just laughs.
It doesn’t matter.
It’s a well known fact that hooking up in Seattle can be challenging even in the best of times. Nor would I claim to be an expert on such matters, for although I receive hundreds upon hundreds of emails every week from hot and horny singles in my area, I have never replied. Their loss. Add to this the fact that Sex Tapes would require a very special type of hookup—specifically one at 600baud—and you begin to get some sense of the challenge.
As if this were not enough, I could not but feel that a general sprit of chivalry would be required on this most quixotic of quests. This saddled the project with some additional requirements:
— Organic. I wanted to create something out in the real world. No hiring professionals, no coordinating with friends; just a man and his tape machine on a quest to discover the true meaning of love in our modern age.
— Honest. In a sadly unconventional strategy, I decided I was just going to tell the world what I was after and why. No bullshit about a, “quest to discover the true meaning of love in our modern age.” Furthermore, I would also let it known upfront that I would probably disappoint, both in terms of the theatrics of the encounter itself and in terms of physical stimulation it would provide. Always better to under promise and over deliver in my book.
— All without weirding anyone out. Because look: I knew some people would not understand what I was trying to do. That’s fine. So I wanted to make sure this project didn’t intrude on anyone or make them feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, some people are up for a little weird. Great!
Faced with all these challenges, I decided to do what many a nervous quester had done before me: try online dating. Yes, I would put myself—and Sex Tapes—out there and let people invite themselves in if they so chose. It was my hope that someone somewhere would be willing to take a chance.
It sounded so easy too. Just create a profile watch the DMs role in. Indeed I began practicing how I would gently inform eager participants that, although their interest was greatly appreciated, there was simply not enough punch for everyone. And I began to fantasize of great masquerade debaucheries involving reel after reel of the most steamy tapes…
Without this film, there would be no Sex Tapes, or—at the very least—Sex Tapes would certainly have been a hell of a lot different than what you are reading.
The connection may not be obvious at first. Emerald Cities is about a woman living out in Death Valley with her father. Her father plays Santa Claws once a year. They have a “color” TV that shows only green tinted images. Emerald green. Pretty depressing. So the woman runs off with a guy to become an actress in San Francisco. The father, dressed as Santa, follows her to the city. He meets a recently released felon who wears a weird alien mask. They eat psychedelic mushroom sandwiches. Then they attend some kind of psychotherapy TV show thing. Finally the father (still in his Santa outfit and tripping) is shot in the middle of a crowded square while people look on. The End.
I guess Sex Tapes also happened near Christmas time. And that whole Seattle -> Emerald City thing. Just a happy coincidence. Fitting though.
But it’s not about the story so much as how the story is told. Spliced into the film are interviews with people about how they feel about Santa getting shot, green tinted recordings of newscasts and nuclear detonations and Ronald Reagan, and full length performances of songs by a pair of San Fran punk bands. And without giving too much away, the end of the film has a very meta twist.
Starting to sound more familiar?
Thing is, the first time I watched Emerald Cities I had no idea what to make of it. The acting, the filming, and the editing all felt kind of haphazard, almost like a student film. And all the spliced in content just felt like filler.
Yet I couldn’t look away. I kept thinking about the film even after it was over. It was like a dream. When I tried describing it to my friends, I just ended up sounding like a crazy person. That is how all good dreams should be.
Through ByNWR, I learned more about the director: Rick Schmidt. I learned more about how he worked and why the film was the way it was. And I learned that he wrote a book: Extreme DV At Used Car Prices. I picked up a copy.
Hulk strips down.
His tan line is exposed
and his hairline is vulnerable and silly,
without the do-rag,
but there is sex to be had
And with the entire summer stretching before me, I was confident that Sex Tapes would be rolling in next to no time. But first things first.
Before I could launch my dating campaign, I needed to figure out how to sell the project and myself to the world. That included writing blurbs for my dating profiles, as well as shooting photos that would get people swiping in the first place.
It was all about walking a fine line too. Consider the profile photos: too strange and I may be perceived as sort of paper tape fetishist; too boring, and no one would bite (or, should I say, byte). The same with the text. It needed to be informative yet also lighthearted.
I'm on a roll! (that's another pun)
He stands on the side of the bed and the woman scoots up from the pillows,
and resumes giving the former WWE heavyweight champion of the universe a blowjob.
It is a slow, dutiful blowjob,
and Hulk is thrusting himself into her mouth to speed up the process.
This goes on for a few minutes,
and at one point
Hulk examines the canopy bed curtains in a way that suggests
he’d like to purchase this particular style for his own canopy bed,
She takes a break.
Skip ahead to early fall.
You must be eager to hear how the dating has been going. How many hookups have been had? How many rolls rolled through?
However, I must disappoint. For at this point in our story, the profile remained uncreated. Yet with very good reason: there was simply no time for it.
“Now certainly”, you are thinking, “sometime during the month of June, or July, or August, this man should have had at least a few spare minutes in which to create a basic dating profile. It’s not that hard after all!” However, let me assure you dearest friend, this was not the case.
For, first off, as we previously covered, it would have been impossible to launch a profile without extensive preparation. Preparation that included not just writing blurbs and taking photos, but also printing posters to commemorate the project! For what if I launched and someone wanted to hookup that very evening? Not having a poster to thank them with would be simply out of the question. (However, it must be noted that I never planned on advertising the posters upfront as part of my proposition. I don’t know, but something about the idea of exchanging paper for punch time just seemed a little sleazy…)
The poster printing would have gone much quicker too were I not forced to print them using letterpress. For those unaware, letterpress is certainly no command-P. That shit takes time. You’ve gotta come up with a design; figure out how it can be printed; put together a form for printing and set type; cut the paper down to print size; print each of the three passes individually; and then trim the prints down to their final size. Phew!
Plus, a single poster would have clearly been insufficient for a project of Sex Tape’s importance, so I decided to print four different posters. That was really the bare minimum. Each design would be printed using the physical paper tape in some way too.
So all in all, between work, poster printing, vacations, late nights spent recreating the moon landing in Kerbal Space Program for Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary, and those 17 hours spent with Ken Burns covering the history of country music, over the summer there was not even a single spare second in which to create a dating profile! Very unfortunate.
And that’s all without mentioning the complications. For, you see, I had to reshoot the profile photos as I didn’t like the first batch. And I had to keep revising my written profile until it had become around two thousand words long. And then, when I showed my Dad one of my finished posters, his response was, “Hmmm, what’s this word?” For indeed, all that work and I had spelled “intimacy” wrong in one design. A fine bit of irony that cost me at a number of hours more in the print shop.
I remember one time in Seattle. Just this past fall actually.
A few stops into the light rail, a guy got on to the train and took the seat in front of me. Sunglasses. Earbuds. Hat.
As we were riding along, he started talking to himself. First like he’s singing to his music, then louder. It’s one of those things where you sort of half listen even if you don’t want to. And in my half listening, I heard him boasting about how he has a better phone than the other people on the train, how there are too many rich people on the train, and how this is his city and we don’t belong in it. Interesting…
Also, just in case you aren’t aware: the whole gentrification thing can be sort of a touchy subject here in the Emerald City.
He kept getting louder and louder. So facing an increasingly uncomfortable situation, I took my usual course of action: ignore. Usually works surprisingly well too! But not today. Because for some reason, the man now turned around to focus on me.
He asked me how long I’d been in the city and when I didn’t reply, he again boasted that it was his city. He informed me that he makes more money than me. Also I was informed that he was an important person and that I could not get enough “pussy”.
For those keeping score at home, those are basically all the classic male insecurities. Really, we should have just pulled down our pants right then and there and had a good old fashioned dick measuring contest.
The man also repeatedly informed me that this is his city and told me to get out. It all felt so wrong, because meanwhile, I was sitting there thinking, “Don’t make a scene. This guy is either crazy or drunk or high or filming a stupid youtube video or some shit. Don’t be the white tech bro filmed yelling at the dark skinned man about how this is really your damn city because you’ve been here almost a decade now and have contributed far more to it in that time than he ever will…”
Even at the time, I knew that simplifying the situation to such terms was wrong. It was really a mental health problem, but in the heat of the moment it is really hard to overlook the simplistic view considering I was being targeted because of what I looked like.
Nevertheless, I stuck to my old dependable strategy: do nothing. Just sit there. Don’t react. Show no emotion.
However this strategy faced a serious challenge when the man aggressively poked at my chest to get my attention. At which point, I told him not to touch me. Which made him do it again. Harder.
Before this man had gotten onto the train, I had been thinking about Sex Tapes. I had been thinking about finally creating a dating profile for it.
I was on the train heading home from the airport. I had just gotten back from a week in Glacier National Park and I had my tripod and backpack with me from that. And it’d been great! We’d seen some bears and two moose, including a bull! (Because it just wouldn’t be a proper UWTB post about sex without a bull moose.) However I’d also gotten sick for the last few days of the trip. Lost my voice. Plus my sense of touch had gotten all messed up.
See, what had happened was this: we were hiking back from a waterfall on the last day of the trip. The trail was overgrown. Plants were constantly brushing up against my arms and legs. And after a few hours of this, I’d become hyper sensitive to touch. And that set the stage for a critical mistake.
Just for fun, I grabbed a cattail and started fiddling around with it. For you see, sometimes I can trigger this weird sense of touch if I mess around with a soft or crunchy object for a minute or two. The sensation is hard to describe. Sort of like being numb, yet in a fun way! The best analogy I can give is that it feels like you’re interacting with the world using a really amazing set of VR gloves. And that day out on the hike, I had a feeling that if I messed around with that cattail in my already hyper sensitive state, I could trigger my fun VR hands again.
And I totally did! I totally got my fun VR hands. And it was pretty neat, at least for a little while.
But then the sensation started growing stronger. It began to spread up my right arm, then to the other arm, then to my lower face, and eventually my legs. That’d never happened before! The sensation continued spreading until I was almost unable to walk. Just stepping felt uncomfortable. It was like I could feel every pebble under my shoe. And coordinating my muscles now took conscious effort. I was stumbling. I felt like I had no strength left.
Not so much fun now.
This whole body sensation had actually happened to me a few years back. That time I had played around with a very soft blanket after enjoying an overly THC laden browny. It was pretty great. Just add some music for a truly amazing trip. I know that sounds super lame so just trust me.
We eventually made it back to the car and although my legs got better within a few hours, the numbness in my hands stuck around for a week. I couldn’t open doors. I couldn’t even use pockets, they simply confounded my VR hands! Plus I was downright dangerous around soft fabrics, wires, hair… Touching, manipulating, or squeezing these materials was super fun but if I gave into the temptation, the sensation would start growing stronger and I was really scared of messing myself up again.
So that’s what was going on as I sat there on the train being poked at: I literally could not feel my hands or arms. Plus, as I mentioned, I’d lost my voice. Add to that the fact that I’m not exactly Hulk Hogan to begin with…
Being vulnerable like that really made me viscerally realize that is what bullies do: they target those who are least able to fight back. Normally that would not be me. Society expects it not to be me. But that day it was me, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
There were probably fifteen people in the immediate area of the train car while all this was happening. No one did anything until a woman in the seat behind me stepped in. She saw my tripod and started a deliberate conversation with me about photography, even as the man continued trying to engage me. And after a minute or two, he got board and got off at the next stop.
Obviously what she did is a classic anti-bullying strategy. It was amazingly effective. Plus, after the man left the train, two young women a few seats up let me know they had reported him to security and that he had already been picked up.
I don’t know what I would have done without that woman. Probably just kept sitting there being jabbed at. The only two solutions I saw at the time were doing nothing or confrontation, and confrontation was impossible for me that day. That brave woman both saved me and showed me another way.
And although it took a while, my hands eventually got better too.
That concludes this week’s episode of, “Women: The Best!”. Next week, we’ll be listing all the ways in which women’s World Cup soccer is superior to the men’s game.
I feel a little guilty about telling that story. Because, like I said, I am not an obvious target. In fact, many of the qualities the man was attacking me over are the qualities that make me not an obvious target: white, gentrifier, tech worker.
I hate having to simplify the situation into identity terms like that, but I’d seem pretty clueless if I didn’t at least mention it.
This is something I worry about with Sex Tapes too. What I’m trying to do here is express some of what I’ve struggled with about relationships, sexuality, and concepts of masculinity. I’m trying to do this in part because I don’t often see these concepts being expressed or discussed in a way I can relate to. At the same time though, I’m trying to do that while making silly sex puns and splicing in descriptions of Hulk Hogan’s sex tape.
And I’m not stupid. I know that one of the reasons I feel comfortable creating a project called Sex Tapes is because there is a fairly low chance of me being impacted by an actual sex tape. Hell, even Hulk Hogan’s sex tape, the one he won that huge lawsuit over, probably made him more of a man in many people’s eyes for still having it at his time in life. Normal women though have to deal with the real threat of revenge porn. And when a famous woman does appear in a Hulkster style sex tape, they are most often judged very harshly. It’s all incredibly unfair.
So I worry that by joking around and presenting Sex Tapes this way, I may come across as just another clueless, immature, entitled male. But this is the only way I feel I can tell the story honestly. The Hulk Hogan sex tape bits for example are there to be contrasted with Sex Tapes. The sometimes immature sex puns are there to poke fun at immature sex puns. I guess what I’m trying to do here is get a somewhat nuanced message across in a very non-nuanced way, and if that seems to you like a recipe for disaster on the internet, well you are not alone!
Then I worry that by admitting that I worry about being misunderstood, it will look like I’m seeking to portray myself as a victim…
Maybe that’s the problem: that I sometimes feel less concerned about the substance of what I say than how someone could attack me for saying it. That I think through possible transgressions, such as: will quoting Kipling make me seem a bit …? That I have to think about which little tribes I could piss off. Hell, some tribesmen could even get pissed at me for saying that women’s soccer is superior to men’s soccer. Of course, if such a thing happened, I’d defend myself by saying: “well not only is the women’s game great, I also personally just like women and can’t reasonably understand how anyone could not prefer watching strong, skilled, athletic females over a bunch of sweaty dudes dinking around with their balls.” And admitting that I like watching women play sports in part because I just like watching women could very well piss off an entirely different set!
Or maybe this is all just a sign that I’ve been spending too much time online.
But as September rolled around, with vacations over and Ken Burns out of history to present, I finally had a moment to consider how things had been going with Sex Tapes. And I realized that although I had been fairly productive in some respects, I had yet to check off the one task that actually mattered, namely: creating a dating profile.
I knew I had been putting it off too. Some part of me had hoped that my endless creative capability for avoidance would magically make the problem go away. Sadly it had not.
Why was it so difficult? Just fill in a few text boxes, upload a photo or two, and I’d be out there. Simply creating a profile entailed pretty much zero risk. At worst, I’d be out there looking a bit silly with my tape machine, but then again I’ve posted far more silly things online.
And yet I just couldn’t make myself do it.
What was I afraid of?
Extreme DV At Used Car Prices has aged poorly in some respects. Not even 20 years old and already most of the websites it mentions are dead; the software it details is deprecated or unrecognizable (hi Final Cut!); and the hardware it talks about is ancient. And “used car prices”? All you need these days to create and distribute a film is your phone.
But all that is beside the point, because when Rick starts gets into his approach to filmmaking and storytelling, the book is just as radical and relevant as ever. He talks about how you can start creating a film without meticulously planning it out in advance. Indeed, that moving beyond storyboards—embracing spontaneity and being reactive during filming—can produce far more unique and honest results. He talks about breaking free from movie cliches that you didn’t even realize were cliches, such as story arcs and character tropes. And Rick covers how if you want to tell a story that truly matters to you, you shouldn’t let anything hold you back. You can tell a unique story without much in the way of equipment, actors, props, sets, money, and filmmaking experience. That’s only become more in the past 20 years.
In short: the book described a rather punk style of film making and story telling. I liked it. Those were the same characteristics I loved about Emerald Cities, what made it feel so unique, so authentic. The film was clearly a labor of love that wasn’t aiming to be something mainstream but instead to express something that I’m still trying to figure out. Or maybe the key is that you don’t need to figure it out. The film was an experience.
Extreme DV At Used Car Prices made me realize I had been trying to tell a traditional story with Sex Tapes: the young hero is called to make a sex tape, faces many trials, but ultimately prevails and returns, VHS in hand—like Moses coming down from the mountain—having learned something about themselves and with a valuable message for society. And maybe that could have been be entertaining. Maybe that could have made you smile or laugh or even think a little. But it was also the safe option. I’d done it before.
Now I wanted to try something new, even it meant making a mess.
I have an admission: I’m not really into the whole casual sex thing.
I feel that’s not something someone who creates projects called “Sex Tapes” should admit. I feel that’s not something a modern man should admit. Because while I guess some people believe sex is immoral or a commie plot to corrupt our precious bodily fluids or whatever, the message I see more often is: don’t take it so seriously! Just have fun! Everyone’s doing it!
So why was it so difficult to admit that it’s just not my thing? Why does all the fun messaging only leave me feel more lost?
“Regrettably, however, this leper-mark of extremism isn’t confined to such expendable traits as religion. Look at sex, for example. More and more people are spending more time at it, and resorting to ever more devious ways of keeping up their enthusiasm, like commercially available aphrodisiacs and parties that are considered to be failures unless they evolve into orgies. A hundred different shiggies a year, which is something a young man can achieve without doing more than taking off his clothes, fulfills neither of the essential biological requirements of the sexual urge: it doesn’t lead to a stable environment for the cubs of the next generation, nor does it establish the kind of rapport between couples (or multiples—marriage works on all kinds of bases, not invariably monogamous) which serves to avert crisis over the possession of other members of the species. On the contrary, it leads rather to a kind of frenzy, because instead of the partners enjoying a continual and reciprocal reassurance about their respective masculinity/femininity they are driven to seek that reassurance anew every few days.”
I remember when I first heard about Tinder. Back then it still had this mystique! Like it was an invite into a world of Eyes Wide Shut balls and all sorts of craziness! Sure people nowadays use it for more traditional dating, but I still remember female friends (along with many of my male ones too) always insetting the qualifying, “Yeah but I only signed up as a joke! Ha Ha Ha!” Yet something in their hearty har hars often struck me as a bit empty.
So naturally my first profile was on Tinder, but I only signed up to create Sex Tapes. Ha Ha Ha!
The site was a poor match for Sex Tapes though. I mean, only 500 characters to introduce myself, not to mention describe why I’m here and what I’m looking for? I can’t even describe what punched tape is in under 500 characters, and there was no way I’d be able to condense the small novel of a profile I’d already written into such a puny text field.
Nevertheless, I gave it a shot! No more excuses! I tried to craft a profile that would draw people in. Then once we started chatting, I could provide details about the project and what I was after.
And with a click, Sex Tapes was live! Me and my tape machine were out there in the dating pool! So exciting! And with the machine already working and the posters already printed, I felt that Sex Tapes might even happen as soon as the very next weekend.
Ok, so maybe if I was getting a hundred shiggies a year sex would just become routine. No big deal. Just another form of entertainment, like a another hit of social media or Netflix… Maybe that last part is not the best analogy.
The more I think about that though, the more depressing that outcome seems. Because sex matters to me. Not just physically but emotionally. Perhaps even spiritually. I need to be able to trust and value and love my partner, and know they feel the same way about me. Maybe hormone crazed teenage me didn’t care about that as much but less hormone crazed and slightly more domesticated adult me definitely does.
And I feel like a bit of a chump to admit that. You know, for thinking so much about something that people do casually; for placing all this value in something that can be both sold and used to sell; for not being out there trying to bag my hundred! And I still feel like a bit of a chump even though, if I’m perfectly honest with myself, I don’t want to be out there trying to bag anyone.
I know that much of this is perception. If I could talk honestly with more people about this all, I suspect that I wouldn’t feel like an outlier.
And I also know that viewing sex as special doesn’t make me some outmoded abstinence-only nutter. I know that sex-positivity is not about orgies or sleeping with hundreds of different partners a year, it’s about unshackling sex so that people can explorer their sexual identity. And sure, for some people maybe that means orgies, but for a long time, all I could see was the flashy, promiscuous side things. That left me struggling with how to reconcile the part of me that is interested in exploring interesting takes on sexuality with projects like Sex Tapes, and the part of me that deeply values real sex and secretly desires a rather boring partnership.
The real kicker is that this struggle was almost entirely self-imposed. No one in what we might loosely term sex-positive discussions or situations has ever made me feel unwelcome or pressured me in any way. I pretty much did it all to myself (although perhaps with a little help from media).
So just in case any one else out there has ever needed to hear this message: sex-positivity is about recognizing that all different forms and expressions of sexuality are normal and healthy, so long as they are consensual and don’t hurt anyone. It is the freedom to have a hundred partners a month, a few hookups a year, the same partner for your entire lifetime, or be asexual. In short: it is the freedom to determine your own relationship with sex.
Eyes. Smile. That slight turn of the head.
Hair. Long or short. Preferably long though.
Brunette. Blonde. Black. Maybe streaked with blue or pink.
Neck. Chest. Navel. Hips. Legs.
Some curves. Some bends. Some folds.
Some more than others.
Muscles. A few glands. Various lumps of tissue.
Secretions. Hormones. Proteins. Genes. Gametes.
Once I believed that women were objectively beautiful. It seemed natural. Like of course if aliens landed on earth they’d be drawn to pert blondes. Hey, happens in Duke Nukem!
As I grew older though, I had to admit that was not true. Don’t get me wrong: I still personally find women endlessly fascinating, but I also realized that if we could teach a male baboon to write he’d probably be waxing all poetic about red rear ends. At some point, female beauty started to feel less authentic to me because I realized it was rooted in biology. A blue sky or a slab of concrete at sunset on the other hand felt more universal. And yes I know that’s all also subjective but still…
Sometimes I can catch the veil slipping too. For brief moments, I see clearly that women are just human, like me; I will see that their bodies were just flesh, like mine; I see that they were just imperfect and often contradictory creatures, just like myself. And that scares me. I want them to be special. I need it. I know that I should not but I do. You’re all I have left.
She spits loudly.
She resumes for a few seconds,
but it appears the spit has worked,
because Hulk mutters something in a growly sex voice.
The woman removes him from her mouth,
and spins around on the bed,
like an excited puppy.
They grope each other and stare at each other.
“What did you say?”
laughing and tying up her hair in a pony tail.
Then they both laugh,
because there was a miscommunication,
during the sex act,
and they don’t want to feel awkward.
Also, be authentic. For this project, I decided I would just state what I was after and why.
Hope that's ok. I can try to pretend if that's what you're into, just know I'm not very good at that sort of thing.
I'm pretty sure no one will respond anyways.
If there is such a thing as objective beauty, perhaps we need to look beyond a definite set of characteristics. Beyond even broad ideas such as elegance, symmetry, or order. What does that leave?
Perhaps objective beauty can only be understood in terms of the subjective. Perhaps it is found in the conscious experience of beauty, be that the beauty of a blue sky or a red rear end. For is it not beautiful that such a thing as beauty exists and can be experienced?
And if that is the case, is it also not beautiful that two creatures can find the highest expressions of beauty in one another? Is it not beautiful to consider that there are beings who were made exactly for each other, who were made to find each other beautiful? “Made” not in the religious sense but in the universal one?
And then, is it not uniquely beautiful that man can transform their subjective experience of beauty into art; into song, into poem, into sculpture? Art that transmits beauty across time and space. Art that other humans can find both beautiful in and of itself and beautiful for its profound expression of beauty.
And if so, then is not man beautiful?
“You got a rubber?”
“I want you to climb on top of me,”
but not as sexy as it was the first time
which she didn’t hear.
she does have a rubber.
Yet after only a week or so, I was pretty sure that my paper tape kindling was not igniting. Which really raises a few important questions, namely: just exactly what kind of lame, analog hookups are people using Tinder for these days? I feel lied to. Probably a total Ashley Madison affair up in there—except, you know, with RCA connectors.
The experience really left me burnt out too. It’d taken a lot of energy to click that publish button and frankly I wasn’t sure I could do it again.
I naturally picked a very healthy way of coping: getting back into Prison Architect. I was lucky this time though. The game released me after only a week. For even as I was constructing many a fine Em City, the thought, “the only real prison is in your mind” kept nagging at me.
So I regrouped. Time to try somewhere else. Grindr then? Hmmmm, maybe?
But the more I thought about it, the more I felt Sex Tapes should reflect me to some degree. And although I am man enough to admit that I can find some men attractive, sadly even Sex Tapes wasn’t motivation enough to try a round with the other team.
And so I instead shifted my recruiting efforts over to Ok Cupid!
Look: why do I find certain physical characteristics attractive? Why do I associate certain behaviors with the feminine? What is it that I like about women?
It’s all a construct. I know it.
Ok, maybe there is some biological backing to waist/hip ratios, symmetry, and all that, but the whole idea of female that I am attracted to? Much of it is a product of my culture. In other words: a big fetish. If in some alternative timeline women wore full tonsure, I’m pretty sure I’d have a thing for shiny bald spots.
That’s not an excuse. I’ve thought a lot about what I’m attracted to, why I may be attracted to it, and what the impact of this attraction is. And even though I have tried to grow beyond impossible physical standards—beyond restrictive and ridiculous cultural expectations—I know that my attractions don’t include everyone. There are many wonderful beings who I will never approach because they don’t match my arbitrary conception of what a mate should look like. I know that is not fair.
I hope everyone can find someone who truly loves them. Perhaps I’m just not evolved enough.
“… having the firmness of a ripe pomegranate, solid yet yielding, and being of a similar color. A true connoisseur will also never mistake quantity with quality.
Now, taken as a whole, even a glimpse of this most divine of fruits is akin to basking in the supreme glory of almighty Anubis themselves, and to pluck it is to know pleasure beyond mortal description …”
Flower analogies have always weirded me out. I know they are supposed to be poetic and whatnot, but they always make me picture an old man (specifically old Charles Dickens) thrusting his nose into… well, you get the idea.
And another thing:
Boobs is my vote for worst word in the English language. People are always pushing moist but I’m not sold. Personally, I find fetus to be a much uglier word vocally than moist. Probably says a lot about me. All things things considered though, I think boobs takes the cake.
To begin with, boobs is just a stupid word. Try saying it aloud. “Booooooobbbbbbbs”. Ugh! The “ooooo” forces your month into a big dumb O shape like some calf getting ready to suckle. It is a word that isn’t so much as spoken as plops out of the mouth, landing with a wet thud in any conversation. You cannot help but sound stupid saying it. Boobs implies boob.
But the true crime is that this word, this most vile and debased of words, does not content itself with merely being crude, its entire goal is to take something pure, something wonderful, something heavenly and pull it down in to the muck. For real women do not have boobs, they have breasts! Breasts nourish! Breasts stimulate! Breast bring pleasure! In short: breasts are the best! Boobs on the other hand are detached blobs of flesh ogled by horny thirteen year olds who don’t even know what being horny means.
And while a word such as tits (in context, generally understood to mean much the same thing as boobs) is also plenty crude, at least tits is unapologetically so. That’s not to say I advocate its usage mind you—for, in my view at least, real men speak about “breasts”, or “areolae” and “nipples” if they wish to get more specific—however people generally don’t go around blabbering about tits at family events. Yet in America at least, the word boobs is often used as a socially acceptable euphemism for breasts. Christ! If there were ever a single word that captures everything wrong with the American conception of sexuality, it is boobs: immature, crude, and ashamed. Then we go and make boobs the national fetish, and by doing so once again drag a living part of heaven down into our depravity and helmet ourselves with it.
So yes, boobs is a terrible, horrible, vile word. It’s high time that we all grow up and leave boobs for the birds.
(sorry, just needed to get that off my chest)
If I had to name a single work that most shaped my worldview growing up, it would be The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. That’s a bit embarrassing to admit actually. When I read it as an impressionable undergrad though, he gave words to feelings I had held for years but had never been able to express. I guess that’s probably why you should not read it as an impressionable undergrad!
A few lines from the book have always stuck with me too. One of them I always remember as, “You were born between piss and shit!” And that’s not me trying to be humorous or anything, when I went back to look up the actual text, my memory was not far off. The real version is actually a quote from Freud that read: “we are born between urine and faeces.” Damn! I bet Freud won all his internet arguments.
Undergrad me didn’t know what to make of stuff like that. I had never thought of it in those terms and yet it was undeniable. Wow… embarrassing! And while it happened to everyone, probably best not to mention it.
That’s what I liked about the Denial of Death though. I liked that the book didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear. It didn’t tell me that I was the chosen one. It didn’t tell me that paradise awaits. It didn’t tell me that I could be immortal. No, instead it was all piss and shit. At the end, Mr. Becker even admits that he doesn’t know what the purpose of life is, so you should just throw yourself into the maw that is life because why not? Now that’s my kind of religion!
Denial didn’t stop at birth either. For consider, it’s only a short logical hop from Freud’s quote to realize that everyone’s favorite activity is all up in the piss and shit too. Whoa! Ultra mega embarrassing. Of course that also made me realize that I’d totally been lusting after the piss and shit too… Better not tell anyone!
But Ernest really went a bit too far that time he casually informed me that those beings who I thought were goddesses were also full of piss and shit. Damn it Ernest! Again, I always knew that on some level, but why you gotta piss and shit on my dreams like that? That’s just rude.
Like I said though, The Denial of Death really just gave words to something I’d felt for a long time. Some part of me had just never felt entirely comfortable with sex. That’s not to say I ever considered sex sinful or any of that hogwash, there was something about it that I couldn’t place. Ernest was the first person I found who talked about it all in words I could understand and relate to.
There’s another passage I read somewhere that has always stuck with me. I remember it as, “sex matters both far less and far more than we make of it.” I think it was in the New York Times. No idea how accurate that quote is by the way.
I half remember lots of weird quotes like that, such as this one about giraffes: “Standing eye to eye with a giraffe is weirdly peaceful. The creature is so unlike us in its particulars and scale, yet so deliberate in its design. It’s comforting not to be at the center of creation.” Ever since reading that, I’ve always liked giraffes.
I really like that first quote though, even if I am completely misremembering it. Interesting to ponder, isn’t it? The ways we overvalue sex are obvious. So how do we undervalue it?
First perhaps we must consider sex biologically. Obviously genetic exchange is the raison d’être of sex. (As the French clearly shows, I’m a moderately cultured ape.) Yet I almost never consider sex in biological terms. For me sex has become almost completely separated from reproduction. Trying to reproduce is a deliberate action that just happens to involve sex. And even on the rare occasions when I do consider sex biologically, I focus almost exclusively on the personal level: what would I do if my partner wanted children, how would I try to raise our kids, that type of thing. Those are important questions too.
Yet, even more abstractly, sex is also about bringing a new being into the world, a being who will feel joy and pleasure but also pain and fear and sadness, and who will ultimately die! That’s also kind of important! And it bothers me to have that power. It bothers me to realize that many of my fellow humans do not consider the act of creating life in such stark terms. If they did, I can’t imagine they’d be entirely comfortable doing it either.
So there’s that.
(Side note: The Denial of Death would really make a terrible religion in practice. Good luck trying to sustain a belief system for 2000+ years if that belief system doesn’t claim God wants you to beget more little believers.)
Our undervaluing of sex doesn’t stop with reproduction. For consider that sexual activity is one of the only times outside of select sports where we truly physically interact with other humans. So much of our lives are intellectual; sex forces us to confront the fact that we are physical beings. Physical being who are drawn to other physical beings. And, no matter what the poets say, that’s not always pretty aesthetically or existentially.
In fact, I have to admit that even all these years after reading The Denial of Death, I still have not entirely come to terms with the idea of being alive, of being mortal, of being an animal. Would it not be preferable to either live entirely in the intellectual sphere or entirely in the animal one? Instead I’m just intellectual enough to understand my animalistic nature in Ernest’s piss and shit terms and just self-aware enough to be embarrassed by it all. This may actually be a common ailment, given that many human activity attempt to fetishize some of the very things that most remind us of the beast in us: food, scents, our bodies, dance, sex…
A strange situation, isn’t it? To find yourself alive I mean.
So if we get right down to it, I’m do have to admit that I’m still not entirely comfortable with sex, but for very different reasons than you usually hear about. Perhaps that’s also why I value it so much though. For, right from the start, sex for me implicitly involves trust. Trust that I can show my partner this physical side of my being that I am not entirely comfortable with and that they will still love me afterwards. The odd bit is that sex is one of the only times I feel it’s all ok. That I’m doing exactly what I was meant to as a silly little mortal creature and that it’s all ok.
So although I may not be fully comfortable with it, you know what? I still love you, even if you are full of piss and shit. After all, I am too.
We’re all in it together kid!
“Because the internet has made it easier for all of us to be shameless voyeurs and deviants, we love to watch famous people have sex. We watch this footage because it’s something we’re not supposed to see (sometimes) but we come away satisfied that when famous people have sex it’s closer to the sex we as civilians have from time to time. Meaning: it’s hardly ever sexy the way we expect it to be sexy, even when the participants are ostensibly more attractive than the majority of our sex partners will be.”
Hulk hurls his massive body
on to the canopy bed
and the woman climbs on top.
Finally they begin.
There is lots of squealing and moaning
and she says stuff like
“I want to make you cum”
“Your dick feels so good inside me”
That sort of thing.
Consider whipped cream.
Now, I’ve never actually tried this mind you, but from my studies it seems that a subgenera of pornography is hellbent on convincing the viewer that whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and/or various other condiments/fruits/foodstuffs make for amazing sexy times. Pastrami anyone?
And I will even admit that sex + whipped cream does sound pretty good at first blush! Because monkey brain says: sex = good, whipped cream = good, so obviously sex + whipped cream = doublegood. But when I give more than a moment thought to the problem, I realize it would almost certainly just be a gross sticky mess of disappointment all around. No need to add whipped cream to the mix for that.
Which is weird isn’t it? I mean lusting after something even though you know it would never live up to expectations if you ever actually got it? By the way, I’m not talking about whipped cream anymore.
Should I compare them to the sun? Should I speak of their golden hair, their rose cheeks, their alabaster necks? Or, if that’s all too old fashioned, should I go full John Mayer and start blabbering about Joshua Tree?
It all sounds so insignificant when I try writing it out. And yet it’s more than just a matter of finding the right words. There is also a hesitancy. I write something, then quickly delete it. Ugh, too embarrassing.
Why is that?
One of the only similar topics I can think of is music. Music is very personal to me. It matters to me on a level that I’m not sure it does to everyone. And so I find it intimate to share the music I love with someone.
So here goes.
While my musical taste is fairly diverse—from Bach to Tofu Beats, Benny Goodman to Giant Claw—the one style I’ve come to identify most with over the past five years is what I guess you might loosely term Synthwave. What I’m talking about is not just a single musical idea though, there are subgeneras and then subgeneras to the subgeneras. One niche I particularly like for example are the musicians building soundtracks for fake 80’s horror movies. A similar niche exists for action movies. Right next door, you have people creating dark synth soundscapes often centered on the occult. Then, on the lighter side, there is Italo revival and musicians cranking out stuff that sounds like it came straight out of Daytona USA.
The main thing to understand about it all is that there are all these layers to it. It’s this great big mix of real and fake, of old and new, parody and tribute, genuine and artificial, and it’s all happening at the same time. The movement is not just music either, it’s an aesthetic, a way of relating to the world. As with The Denial of Death, Synthwave captured something I’d always felt but had never been able to express before it came along.
Yet I find it difficult to share the songs and artists I like with someone. In part, I worry that they’ll hear all the rocking synths, or the police sirens, or the lyrics about America Online and strippers and think… I don’t know what? That I take it all at face value? That I never really grew up maybe?
I encounter the same hesitancy when I try to explain what women mean to me. I start to write why I am attracted to them. I wax about the beauty of the female face, about how there is nothing quite like seeing a woman smile and knowing that I caused that. I talk of the light they bring to the world and how much I enjoy being around them in far more than just the romantic sense. I use the term “goddess” liberally, perhaps too liberally. And eventually I even build up the courage to admit that I really want nothing but to protect and care for them! But then I reconsider. After all, why do they need me for protection or to be happy? And upon re-reading, the words that I thought came from my heart sound more like corny drivel.
And what would readers think? That I’m some kind of weirdo who can’t have normal interactions with females? And shit, what if the women I know were to read it? Embarrassing. Maybe worse. At least your musical tastes generally can’t fuck up your life all that much.
Yet at the same time, I know I should not feel this way. That even if I can’t express myself properly, what I am trying to express is not something shameful. Nor am I ashamed of my attractions.
So why does writing about it make me so uncomfortable? And for that matter, why was Sex Tapes so difficult for me to work on? Why did it take me a month to listen to the recording of the conversations E. and I had during it? Why did I spend months on this stupid write-up until it ballooned to 25,000 words? And sometimes I feel that’s not nearly enough.
Every other month or so I come across a new article that explains how boys grow up to be toxic men. Maybe bad role male models are to blame. Maybe it’s the lack of male role models. Maybe there’s too much fake sex everywhere. Maybe there’s not enough real sex anywhere. Maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s advertising. Maybe it’s porn.
Many of these articles are well written. They identify real problems. And it’s appealing to hear that, “well if we can just fix __, then we’ll be cranking out XY feminists in no time!”
Yet, as enticing as such narratives are, I can never fully relate to them. I was a boy who became a man, but it was never quite as simple as all that for me. And, looking back, I think that the complexities are by far the most interesting part of my story.
So now, in a classic dude move, I’m going to tell you my story in a way that makes it seem very important. I don’t even care if you don’t want to hear it!
To start with, I actually had a lot of great male role models growing up. These were men who defied stereotypes: from uncles who loved Jazz and College Football, to uncles who were flamboyant hairdressers. And while they were not perfect—they could have shown more emotion for one—they also were passionate and cared deeply in their own ways. The men in my life were always respected women and showed me that true strength is in caring for others. What I saw in them mattered a whole lot more than what I saw in the media.
And I also had a strong female role model in my mom. She wasn’t traditionally feminine and she certainly wasn’t a traditional mom. She was the type of mom who brought home owl palettes to dissect and played with circuits with me. And if you’re wondering where I got my love of B-movies from, it was her. She introduced me to old Godzilla films when I was young, and later we laughed through many bad Sci-Fi channel originals together.
Only as an adult have I started to appreciate that she was a rebel too. She still is. Just get her talking about how women’s embrace of always “looking sexy” is not in fact the pinnacle of empowerment but goes against so much of what she fought for as a young woman. She’s always fighting in her own quiet way.
Her stories about her personal experiences of sexism really stuck with me: how in school, the girls and boys took the same aptitude test but how the resulting career determination was gender specific; how early in her career, an interviewer once dismissively asked her if she was just going to get married and have kids; and about all the times she’s been overlooked for a less competent man. For all my mom has accomplished, I can’t help but wonder what she could have done if she’d been given a more fair shot.
I remember a conversation I overheard in a store recently.
A transwoman and a man were talking. She must have transitioned recently because the man asked her how it had been going. She said, “Great”. But then she said something along the lines of (and I’m paraphrasing using my own words because I can’t remember the exact ones), “You know, until transitioning I never realized how much shit men have to put up with. As a woman though, people are just nicer. Even strangers. Like when I go to a restaurant, the staff is a lot more friendly.”
Which was an interesting thing to hear! The perspective from both side I mean.
Really made me think too. Part of me is still wondering if maybe it’s true. Then I remember that there’s a whole world of bullshit that women have to put up with every single day that I’m not even aware of.
After dutifully answering questions and completing a more extensive profile, I thought I was all set. Ok Cupid even let me post my entire proposition, which I was confident would attract many the fair suitor. That’s not to say I was feeling entirely comfortable, because after clicking submit in a burst of confidence, I determined the best follow up was obviously to play through Prey.
Two weeks later though, having saved the world, I finally logged back in. But alas! Tragedy. For at some unknown point my profile had been silently suspended for an unmentioned violation of OkCupid’s terms of service.
Now, although I was unable to confirm this theory, my best guess at what happened is this: my carefully staged profile photos conceivably could have possibly maybe somehow theoretically violated the site’s terms of service. Which would be absurd! Because, while it was true that I had not been wearing any clothing in them, I had carefully positioned the tape machine and tape itself Spy Who Shagged Me intro style so that none of the naughty bits were visible (ha!). Plus I was winking at the camera with a stupid grin, so it should have been clear that I was in on the joke.
The really sad part though is that the photos I had posted were probably the least risqué ones from the photoshoot. It got plenty more Mapplethorpe after that. Got kind of weird actually…
However one reshoot and one new profile later, I was back in action. And this time, I made sure to keep all my clothing on.
Then, Hulk grunts.
Hulk grunts more.
Then Hulk grunts,
like he’s doing an impression,
of old Hulk Hogan grunting,
right before he’s about to cum/come.
We're still talking about that right?
Also old slashers.
I like them because they are trash. You don't enjoy them directly. Well I guess maybe some people do but those people are messed up! Like when Freddy says, "Welcome to primetime bitch" and then kills a woman by slamming her into his TV body. It's funny not because the joke itself is funny, but because someone even made such as stupid joke. You have to watch them on sort of a meta level.
Ok, I should probably stop. Just digging myself in deeper.
I got my first star within 24 hours. So exciting! At least until I realized that I had a major problem: I didn’t know what to do next. I mean I physically did not know what buttons to click or page to visit to find whoever liked me.
To explain this conundrum, you need to understand a bit of how the site works. By default, OkCupid only lets two people start talking to each after they have both liked (starred) one another. Makes sense. To like someone, you can either just star them or also include a little introductory message. Flirty!
When someone likes you, they show up in your feed. Here’s the thing though: that feed also contains random other people who the site thinks you may like. And as far as I know, there’s no indication why you are seeing a given profile in your feed unless the person who liked you also made an introduction. Just a simple “star” and you’re out of luck. (I believe you can also pay for a subscription to see all your stargazers. See that’s how they get you!)
While this works well enough for normal dating purposes, remember with Sex Tapes I had taken a vow of chivalry. What this meant in practice was that the women would have to initiate things. Presumably such a move would indicated that they knew what I was trying to accomplish with the project and were ok with something kind of different, at which point I would happily provide further information.
So now my conundrum should be more clear: if someone liked my profile but failed to include an introduction, I could not find them through the site without risking reaching out to the wrong person and weirding them the fuck out as they wonder what this dude with a tape machine is all about.
And unfortunately, for the first star, whoever liked me did not included a message. I had no way to follow up.
Talk about crushed dreams.
for both participants
and they seem pleased with the results.
The woman provides two tender kisses
on Hulk’s upper chest.
Hulk says, “Mmmk,”
because he’s a little bemused by the situation he finds himself in
on this day as we’ll soon find out.
While my family was fairly open about discussing sexuality, for the most part the classic “sex talks” fell to my dad.
My dad and I had a number of these conversations over the years, with the content evolving as I grew older. One thing was constant though: my dad didn’t bullshit around. He told me about sex. He told me how to have sex and how to be considerate to your partner. He told me about pornography and how to masturbate well (which—and sorry for stating the obvious—are like really important topics for a teenage boy that they don’t cover at all in Sex Ed!) There was no shame in any of it.
While I can’t know for sure what my Dad’s intentions were, my biggest take away was this: as a man, my priority was to look after my partner. Practically, emotionally, sexually. That still seems like a pretty reasonable message!
As I grew older, my dad also told me stories about his experiences. About his early girlfriends, about living in a beach house and how it had been easy to pick up women, about the time a couple had asked him to photograph them having sex. There was certainly an element of swagger in them but they were never crude or inappropriately detailed. They were fun stories! If they had a downside, it’s that they made me feel like I wouldn’t be able to live up to them.
My Dad is a complicated person and his influence on me is also complicated. I know for instance that some of his actions may not sound great if I describe them. For example, I grew up with him privately commenting about the appearance of women, both those on screen and in the real world. I feel like I’m supposed to condemn him for doing so. Some of his comments were objectifying and just because I love him does not mean his actions are correct or worth emulating. Yet when I saw him interact with women, I always saw how much he respects and just plain likes them. I have never seen him behave in a way that makes me believe otherwise, even if he does sometimes share pictures of the President of Croatia in a bikini with me.
So given all that mostly positive background, where did things go wrong?
I remember a conversation I overheard once while riding the “L” in Chicago.
The train car was fairly full. Two men were talking with each other a few seats up. Loudly. Seemed to be in their 40s. Sports, work, life. The usual. You could sort of tell that some of the other people in the car were half listening too. It was hard not too frankly. The men either didn’t notice this or didn’t care.
Their conversation eventually turned to romance, and at this point I started to get curious about where things were headed. Because, given that the train car had already heard all about financial troubles, health issues, and family members with addiction problems, these guys did not seem to be holding much back.
One of the guys started telling about this date or something. He and a woman had apparently gone back to someone’s apartment, when the woman had passed out. Which doesn’t seem entirely normal, now does it? And then the narrator stated to his friend in a completely matter of fact way, “You know, I guess I could have raped her.” Which itself is a pretty terrible thing to overhear on the train, but what really got me is the way he said it: he said it as if to imply that he was actually a really good guy because he didn’t!
I mean, Christ! at least he didn’t, but is that the standard us men are going to hold ourselves too? If someone passes out with you and you are sober enough to remember the ordeal, how does raping them even cross your mind? And ok, let’s say such a thought did happen to pop into your head for some reason. How can you feel it’s ok to loudly talk about that on a train with a bunch of women sitting all around you!?!
Of course I didn’t say anything but I did spend the next hour imagining many scenarios in which I did. I guess I could have killed him too. I didn’t though.
I’m quite the hero.
Look: I know this is like the third overheard conversation in this piece, but I swear I do not go around listening to strangers all the time. Somehow this shit just keeps happening.
“And now for the trifecta!”
Media certainly had an influence. I grew up laughing at Johnny Bravo’s and Pepé Le Pew’s hopeless romantic efforts. I watched movies and read books that taught me that a man was strong, stoic, and tough. Probably serve in the military too! I learned I had to save the princess. I learned what physical characteristics to desire and how to express those desires (such as hanging up posters of large breasted, scantily clad women). There were lots of implicit messages too, such as the lack of strong and dynamic female characters.
Let’s be honest though: Pepé Le Pew is not to blame. While media and culture gave me a worldview with some major flaws that I’ve since been trying to unlearn, my real world influences mattered far more: my mom, dad, and all those other great family members and family friends.
Thinking back, the only type of media that sort of got to me growing up were those comedies made for teenage boys. Even though they superficially celebrated sex with jokes, to me they made sex seem kind of dirty and shameful. Plus watching them made preteen/early teen me feel like a loser given that I’d never even kissed a girl at that point.
I do remember once watching 40 Days and 40 Nights with my parents as an early teen. Which was kind of awkward! especially considering the main character’s name… I have no clue how well that movie holds up but that one scene where film Matt uses flowers to stimulate his lover without touching her always stuck with me. Maybe you can tell. Unique expressions of sexuality like that were largely the exception however.
I really do wish I’d grown up with more relatable examples of masculine sexuality in culture. On one hand, it felt like you had to be a hunk like Arnold to get the women. On the other, there was ol’ limp dick Romeo with his fancy talk held up as the highest ideal of romantic love. Neither felt relatable to horny, non-hunk teenage me.
The real negative influence was not media though, rather it was with other men, most often boys my own age.
I remember one time on a school trip, all us boys were crowded together in one hotel room. Somehow we got to going around, and each of us had to say which of the girls we were traveling with we were most in to. As a friend? For dating? Sexually? I don’t know. When it came to me, I stalled. I didn’t know what to say. I was attracted to them sure but I’m not sure I had even thought about it in that way. Eventually though, I couldn’t be a “fag” and not say something, so I said the blonde one. She was the popular answer.
God that felt shitty. It felt shitty even then when I didn’t know exactly why it felt shitty.
Then in high school, I learned that being a man meant sexual conquest. It was about trying to score blow jobs off the easy girl. It was all those awkward conversations were we’d sit around and try to shoot the shit like real men, saying real manly things like, “God, don’t you just love boobs!” (Which sadly, while not perhaps a direct quote, does capture the general sprit of things.)
And more than anything, I look back now and see all that went unsaid. They taught us about babies, STDs, and even consent but never about what women wanted. No one talked about that. I honestly can’t recall any male my age ever even hinting at that back then. Sex was something done to them.
Do. Know. Have.
Tap. Drill. Nail. Screw. Pound.
Bop. Bonk. Beep.
Tag. Poke. Smack. Slap. Hit.
My first real date was in college. I guess that makes me kind of a nerd. Still am. Whatever.
In the cliche internet narrative, stuff like that probably should have made me all angry and bitter towards women. Instead, as I grew older, I just grew pissed at men. Not specific men, more like men in the abstract. More like the entire concept of masculinity that I felt was being foisted on me.
Over the years, masculinity had slowly transformed in my eyes from something noble and natural into this oppressive, corrupting force. I had started to question. Why did it feel so dirty to hear some men make comments on women’s bodies? Why did those male driven sex comedies always feel off? Why on the news was it almost always men doing horrible things? Where most men secretly sex-crazed, pedophiliac losers like Chris Hansen seemed to prove over and over again every week?
Here’s the truly ironic bit though: my negative view of masculinity mostly came from men themselves, from their actions and behaviors, from examples in the media of how men were supposed to behave. There was no secret feminist plot. If you think otherwise, look in the mirror.
It left me feeling lost. My parents had given me this idea of what being a man meant—of what love and sex were all about—but the world had muddied everything up. I was still attracted to women and wanted more than anything to be with them, yet if my only choices were to emulate what I now saw as a toxic, cliched vision of manliness or pretend that I was asexual, the latter started seeming like pretty reasonable choice. And yet why then did I still feel so broken? Why did I feel like a loser for not being something I didn’t want to be?
And to think that I largely avoided the worst of the internet while growing up. I mean you know there are groups of men online who hate women for not being easy enough to sleep with, and groups of men who hate women for being too easy to sleep with! I suspect there’s probably a good deal of overlap between those two actually!
Talk about crazy town.
I remember recently seeing a poster that read something like: “Every night in King County [where Seattle is located] thousands of people are sold for sex. 300 to 500 of them are children.”
I remember thinking those numbers were too high. That there was no way that could be possible. That’d be insane.
But I have never looked into it. I can’t. I really don’t want to know where those numbers came from or how accurate they are. Because I’m scared of what I may find if I start looking.
Right now, they are just numbers on a poster. If I were to start looking though, they would become real. And even if I find it’s a tenth of those numbers, that’s still insane.
There is one fact I’m pretty confident in though, even without looking: almost all the perpetrators are men.
I feel like an asshole for dragging something like that into a stupid project like this, but if you want to understand where I’m coming from, it’s shit like that.
“Exterminate all the brutes!”
I remember that while trying to find someone for this project on OkCupid, I got a star with a generic message. The equivalent of a, “heeeeyyyyyyyyy”.
At first I was pretty excited that someone was interested in the project but then I saw their profile. It was almost devoid of text. All the photos were of an Asian woman and I don’t know but she looked young. Not like child young but young. And it really freaked me out.
Maybe I’m assuming the worst. Maybe it was only a scam. I hope so.
You know, even if I wanted to, I can never travel to Southeast Asia by myself. Why? God damn pedo guys!
(And yes I know that’s a rather selfish take on the problem.)
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you…”
Look, I may not like my asshole but at least he gets results!
God damn my generation! I mean the Woodstock bunch certainly imploded but at least they had that moment. Meanwhile, what do we have? Fyre? Only fitting for a generation whose best retort to our abject failure is a meme.
What we need is punk, but even punk is just another brand now. Maybe that’s all it ever was to most people anyways.
I ain’t no punk.
Just another suburban corporate yuppie chump…
Man this is getting depressing. We need to lighten the mood up in here! So without further ado, allow me to tell you a joke:
After extensive consideration, I have determined how I would like to die.
The setting: the desert. Maybe Death Valley. Time: just before sunset.
The sand: warm blue. The mountains: muted pink. Wispy clouds: orange and yellow and red.
An atom bomb would be sitting on a wooden tower a few hundred feet away. The last warm rays of the sun still illuminate it.
The music: “Night Swim”.
I’d be going down on my partner as she gently runs her fingers through my hair. Naturally this whole thing would have to be her preferred way to die as well. Good luck with the casting there!
Also, maybe the atmosphere should be a blend of N2O and alkyl nitrites. Why not? I don’t recommend it because given how good it feels it’s probably not very good for you, but that doesn’t matter much now does it?
Then, right as the colors of the sky reach their peak, and right as the music crescendoes, and right as we both climax into zebra striped waves of orgasmic pleasure, the bomb would detonate. One millisecond and that would be that.
Oh yeah, forgot to mention: the event would be called “Homecoming”. The tagline: “Going out with a bang!”
Ha. Ha. Ha…
Sometimes I feel I’m not smart enough to tell this story the right way. There should be characters and settings and plots, elaborate metaphors and multilayered allegories. It should have action and humor and romance. Probably time travel too!
If I were smarter, I would show instead of telling. I would argue my points using a dialog between Socrates and The Serpent (aka his penis). Or maybe the story would all be told using a fictional social app call “M2M”, which would be a reference to the ticking of a Doomsday Clock. If I was smarter, I would tell this story using hyperlinks and hypermedia and the now, not using boring old text with a few photos and songs thrown in. Didn’t even include a single emoji or image meme like a proper millennial.
And there I would be: the heroic narrator! Authoritative yet cooly detached. Accomplished yet still relatable. Plus a sexual tyrannosaur too boot!
But I can’t. I don’t know that I even want to anymore. Because in many ways, I’m board with it.
It disturbs me that much of what I find most exciting happened decades ago. The art, the writing, the music. I look at a shit happening these days and think: well this is just incredibly lame. All too safe. All too full of winks and wanks. Sometimes when I peek outside my little bubble all I see is branding and boasting and bullshit.
So that’s why I’m doing it like this. That’s why I’m putting myself into it. That’s why I’m telling you that I don’t have the answers. The best I can hope to do is give you some small sense of what this project felt like, which is why I broke the write-up up chronologically and stylistically and inserted all sorts of nonsense like this. And if it doesn’t work? Fuck it. At least I tried.
Not that I don’t have misgivings. Truthfully, trying to do it like this is very scary for me even if it all seems very small to you. And to think, I’m not even fully disrobed up here!
You know, at one point Sex Tapes included a section that took the Apollo 11 landing transcripts and made it about the paper tape hookup? You know: 1202 alarms, “Down 2 1/2”, that type of thing.
The idea was to reference my landing on the moon in Kerbal Space Program for Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary, which as I mentioned was one way I delayed creating a dating profile. Plus there was the potential Star Trek link and the whole idea of 50 years of de-evolution.
God that would have been stupid!
One of my Dad’s famous sex talk quotes was something along the lines of, “if a man ever tells you they don’t watch pornography, they are lying.” Which while perhaps not 100% true, is probably still a pretty damn true statement!
Porn is commonly blamed for corrupting young men. And I get it! There is a lot of bullshit porn out there. Like just some real regressive stuff. And without any better influences, maybe some boys really do grow up thinking porn provides accurate depictions of sex.
But blaming porn seems like a cop-out. That stuff doesn’t just exist in a vacuum after all. And besides, just look at me. I turned out ok! I definitely don’t make projects called Sex Tapes or anything… ok well, I mean if you’re really looking for someone to blame for who I am, blame Ernest Becker.
Although maybe there’s a important and rather Freudian point that could perhaps explain that along with a whole lot of things: (TMI time!) I have never watched pornography that includes a man. Like ever. Not even as a teenager who was curious about what whole male, female thing could look like. Hell, even a plastic penis is pretty borderline. The only reason I ever have is for projects (no joke).
Our dear Austrian friend would probably have a good deal to say about that, however that point of view may also be too simplistic. I think it largely goes back to the whole negative idea of masculine sexuality I developed growing up. A lot of pornography that features a man on the screen men sadly does play into those ideas. Plus, back then I had trouble seeing even potentially ok expressions of male sexuality as positive. Not that pornography with only women is necessarily some progressive paragon mind you! Because obviously it is still made for men, and all too often by men too. However I can’t help but feel that scenes with women are generally a bit more reciprocal and romantic and perhaps even respectful. At least they are about female pleasure, even if much of it is acting. I’d even go as far as to argue that all female scenes are usually more sensual too, as they are usually more than just a bunch of cumshots.
So here’s how it went down: as a teenager, instead of watching videos of a man banging a woman and fantasizing about being the man, as I feel I was probably supposed to be doing, I watched videos of women caressing and kissing each other while fantasizing about being one of them. A bit of a plot twist! (I guess the more standard explanation of the appeal of videos with two women to men is that the man watches and desires both of the women. Which, while us men may indeed sometimes have monkey brains, it does seem a bit insulting to imply that for men it’s all as simple as: one woman = good, so two women = double good!)
But I should make it clear that the fantasy was never about literally being a woman. I was happy being scrawny ass me. It was more like being in one of their places. The wish that I could ever bring my partner pleasure like that. The wish that my male body could ever be as beautiful to my partner as these female bodies were to me. And the wish that the sex I was having (or, more accurately at the time, was not having) could ever be as beautiful as that between the two beautiful female beings on the screen.
I still struggle with those things all these years later. I still doubt that my partners can find my body as attractive as I find theirs. I still feel somewhat uncomfortable with even healthy expressions of male sexuality. I still wonder what women see in us.
Also, for the record, and at risk at making myself seem very foolish or at the very least highlighting how good I am at fooling myself, I’m pretty convinced that porn actually made me love, respect, and value real women even more. I’m guessing that would not have been the case if it’d been weaned on blowjobs and whatnot, though it’s impossible to say without a time machine of course. Having said that, I’m still more than a little uncomfortable to admit all this because, like I said, that stuff also has more than its share of negatives and because probably around half the women I know happen to be gay.
But in my defense, I find many women to be attractive.
(very progressive, I know)
For example, while putting off creating this profile, I played through The Talos Principle and sort of fell in love with the voice in it.
No silly, not the Big AI in the Sky! The female one from the recordings. I just wanted to give her a hug and tell her it would all be ok.
It was very sad.
I will say though that it wasn't sexual.
Ok, maybe a little. Just trying to be honest here. But it was a little sexual in like a good way! Promise.
That's the obvious answer though.
How do I even answer this?
I guess the problem is that I can always justify myself to myself. I can tell myself that my desire is not a desire to possess but to serve and care for and empower; not a desire for bodies but whole beings; that even my physical desires center on bringing my partner pleasure. And, consciously at least, I truly believe these things. I try to live by them.
It can't be that simple though. For in the back of my mind, I know that other men can almost certainly justify their sexual desires as natural and positive, even when those desires are the complete opposite of mine!
And even assuming that my desire is positive, how should I express it?
I have never catcalled. I've never made weird advances. I have never touched inappropriately. So clearly I must be a pretty chivalrous dude for clearing the lowest of low bars! On the other hand though, just consider all the men who don't...
Let's consider something smaller then, something more familiar to me, say a passing glance on the street. Even with that, how is a woman to tell what is behind a glance? Can they distinguish a glance of admiration from one expressing more perverse thoughts? And if not, wouldn't it be safest for them to always assume the worst? I know I would.
So assuming that's the case, wouldn't that imply that it would be wrong for me to ever glance admiringly at any woman, because I know full well that this action has a fairly high likelihood of being misunderstood as something bad. And that's even if we assume that my personal intent is objectively pure in the first place!
How many times have I stolen a glance? God, viewed in those terms, now that's a terrible thought...
And why should someone be subjugated to my desire in the first place, no matter how pure it is? Because the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that even deification is just another form of objectification or at least otherness. It's not right to put so much on another being who is only human. Don't women deserve to be able to live freely without a bunch of brutes like me constantly fawning over them? And so here's another terrible thought: what if what I thought was love could actually be hurting those who I directed my love towards? Why are there so many examples of what not to do and so few of what actually to do?
I don't know. I guess simply stated, the real question I'm wrestling with is: can you respect another being, can you truly value them as an individual and treat them as your equal (or better) and also want to fuck them?
Crude. I put it that way on purpose though. Because even put that way, I still really want to believe that it is possible. I want to believe that I can!
Yet I only see my side. While I have talked with a few women about subjects such as attraction, not enough. I mean how do you spring a question like, "What do you feel when a man glances at you?" on someone? I guess maybe a good start would be to even ask the damn question.
Ugh. I apologize. I probably put too much thought into that one. Maybe others find it easier.
Think you could tell me what they put down? Just curious.
Sorry, that's a lie.
What are you looking for?
Most of my relationships have just sort of faded away. No big blow up, no “it’s not you, it’s me”, no scandals. The daily messages turn into weekly messages, then every other week, until one day I realize that I don’t remember the last time I saw her. It usually ends with me sitting in the dark staring at her name on the screen, knowing it’s been too long to say I’m sorry. (Maybe at the very end, I should also make a whimpering sound or something…)
I know the pattern well enough now to know when it is happening. That’s the worse part. To know that it is happening yet to still do nothing. The last real time, I always knew the relationship was never going to be forever and yet still, why did I let it end like that?
I know it’s such a god damned cliche, but I think I’m scared of getting too close. While there isn’t a single root cause, once upon a time, someone very close to me betrayed my trust. I was a teenager when that happened, and although there were certainly lot of other things going on during that time, ever since I’ve found it difficult to let myself get too close to anyone.
So here’s how it usually plays out: at some point in a relationship, I’ll start growing increasing concerned that I’m letting my partner down, thus setting myself up for them to hurt me. I still feel this even though I’ve never had anyone ever hurt me like that. Still, it’s easier to let it all just fade away, or just to never put myself out there in the first place. I guess the problem is that those solutions leave me feeling pretty shitty.
I remember one time I really did mess up though. It was back while attending university.
I was driving to a movie with a woman. I don’t remember which movie. Probably a bad one.
Somehow we got talking about beauty. Then she asked me if she was beautiful.
I was so blown away by the question that I didn’t respond for a second. And by then it was too late. By then if I said yes, the hesitation would have made it seem like a lie. And if I said no, I was a jerk. So instead I stammered all around. Which in retrospect was the worst possible thing to do!
Truth be told, she was not classically beautiful. I could not lie to her. And perhaps for that reason, I had always seen her as a friend. Now that I’m more mature, I look back and see that she likely wanted to be something more. Anyways, my fuckup ruined that and the friendship.
I’m sorry. I don’t know where you are but I’m sorry I let you down when you needed me. I know it sounds very lame that this is like the biggest mistake I made in college, but it mattered. I know it did.
And even though I know it’s far too late now, here’s what I should have said: “I find you beautiful.” Because that would have been the truth.
I told my Dad that story once. I don’t think he knew what to say.
I remember attending this underground hardcore-punk concert thing in a small Swiss town.
When the lead singer started screaming and the crowd (mostly dressed in shades of black) started moshing, I remember thinking, “man, Switzerland is great. What do you guys have to be yelling all about?”
Ha! Like I should be talking.
Fun music though. Repetitive but at least you can dance to it, even if it’s just banging all about. Plus there was an impromptu acoustic show after the main even where the band members were playing around while also making coffee in the stage area. So damn punk.
I think E. was my fifth or so star. Making a quick pass through my feed, I saw a little blue blurb on her profile page: “Hey, this sounds fascinating!”
That blurb was so exciting that I promptly switched over to Wikipedia to read about some very important historical event. I don’t remember what it was. Needless to say though, it must have been very important because I was not able to respond at all that day.
When I finally did respond, I was hesitant at first. I didn’t know if she was serious about the project or not. I didn’t know what she was expecting. I didn’t know how much detail to go into.
But try as I might to undersell things, E. remained interested. And so eventually we agreed to meet up to discuss how it might all go down.
People often mistake the broader Synthwave movement as pure nostalgia. Like seeing the world through rose tinted aviators. Anyone who lived through the 80s knows that it wasn’t all neon and Deloreans. The world that Synthwave celebrates never existed. That’s the point!
Some of the best Synthwave expresses a longing for something that never existed; for something that was too beautiful to have ever existed. The song writers know that, I know that, we all know that, and yet we choose to believe in it anyways. The genre also implicitly channels a profound disappointment that our present didn’t live up to the future the past imagined. Because 2020 was supposed to be awesome! And I’m not talking about flying cars or anything. I mean, just think of all the great dystopias we had to choose from: Blade Runner, Akira, Endgame (the good one, aka the Italian one), Stand on Zanzibar! Instead we have these lame culture wars that were already settled half a century ago and a slow motion climate disaster. Yawn.
So at its core it’s not about wanting to go back to the past, but about using the past to define the present. It’s the only way we can keep going forward, even though we know the future will disappoint us again. Synthwave is having one foot in a future that will never come to pass, and the other in a past that never existed. That’s why I love it. As silly as it all can be, it matters to me in a way that I don’t know if many other people can understand. And it’s just incredibly danceable. Get your fake VR hands on and hot damn!
The movie Ready Player One really pissed me off because it fundamentally gets this wrong. It’s all regressive nostalgia, all backwards looking. No heart either. Dutifully recycling references without understanding what those characters and stories meant to people in the first place or why they still hold such appeal. Plus just a shit action movie to boot.
We met up at a coffee shop.
I was really worried that we wouldn’t be able to find each other so I brought along a rainbow bandana. God knows what that means in bandana code. Probably signals that you’re into weird shit with vintage computers…
Wasn’t needed though. She walked in right on time and I recognized her right away. The real problem was finding a seat where we could talk without having to worry about neighbors overhearing what was in all likelihood going to be a rather strange conversation.
How do you start a conversation like that anyways? I think I tried, “Thank you for being here.” Then I went on to detail how the project had come about and what I wanted to get out of it. I even had prepared some visuals to show what the DNA print had looked like and what the tape machines were like.
Kind of silly to admit now but given that I wasn’t sure what type of person would be attracted to Sex Tapes, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised to discover that E. was normal. Friendly even! I tried to answer the questions she had too. I also was curious to learn more about her but didn’t want to intrude as I still wasn’t sure how personal she wanted this whole thing to be.
So instead, I explained how I saw the project happening, how she could be fully clothed and all that, and how the experience itself was probably not going to be very exciting. I couldn’t tell if she was disappointed or not.
At some point, I finally had the courage to ask her what attracted her to the project and what she hoped to get out of it. She ended up telling me a lot more about herself than I had expected! What struck me is that she had fairly recently moved to Seattle and had gone about reinventing her life. Trying out new experiences like this was part of that. She also knew far more about the whole sex-positive community in Seattle than I did, despite being new to the city. She was actually a very interesting person! Inspiring too. I mean, I wouldn’t have the courage to have met with some weird paper tape guy I met online.
We ended up talking longer and more personally than I had anticipated, covering topics such as the city and work, my previous projects exploring and expressing sexuality, and some of her experiences since moving. It felt good to finally have someone to talk about this stuff with.
And we agreed to meet up at her apartment in a few weeks. I had originally proposed using a hotel room figuring it would make her feel safer but I guess she trusted me.
After we said goodbye, I was almost giddy. All the ways I had pictured it playing out and yet I had never imagined it actually going this well. Now we just had to make it happen.
I remember going to Retro Future Fest. It was this all night synthwave festival in London. I wore a hot-pink “Rhonda’s Workout” t-shirt and Sega 3D glasses, naturally.
I was scared going in because I didn’t know what to expect. What if the people were weird? What if I was the weird one? What if…?
But it was great! One of the highlights of my life was when Sunglasses Kid started up this 80s workout style beat and a man in a rainbow colored Richard Simmons style leotard jumped out onto the stage and started leading the crowd.
And it turned out, there were a bunch of people like me there! People who all loved this weird little cultural niche for reasons all our own and had come together from across the UK, Europe, and the world to celebrate it. And I could tell there were other people like me who weren’t at first entirely comfortable being there. Once the music started, it didn’t matter.
I always tend to build things up so much, list off all the what ifs, and really try to almost talk myself out of. And then I go, and it’s just people. Almost always nice people too! The only time I’m really disappointed is when I go somewhere and don’t have the courage to try getting to know the people there.
You have to force yourself to do it. I’ve spent a lot of lonely nights at restaurants and bars hoping that someone would talk to me. It almost never happens. Most other people either just talk with friends they already know or fiddle with their phone because they are scared of seeming alone. It’s really depressing. You have to be the brave one that takes the risk and makes it happen. And if I can sometimes be the brave one, you certainly can be!
That sort of thinking worked great for Retro Future Fest and it worked great for Sex Tapes. Now if only I could apply it to something useful…
“The rubber almost came off,”
She’s not concerned.
“It did what it was supposed to.”
Hulk thought that was funny and makes her repeat it.
You know, maybe sometimes I’m too quick to call stuff bullshit. Country music for example. Just was never my thing. Always somehow felt like it was a gimmick or worse, insincere. So as a teenager, I decided that it was bullshit.
That wasn’t fair. Ken Burns helped me realize that.
Understand: the moment I once and forever realized that I was not cool was when I found myself silently cursing, “Damn it, why isn’t my PBS working?” Only 18 and I’d already developed the media habits of a boomer. Compared to all the shit that’s out there though? But I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll follow old Burnsey just about anywhere. Hell, I still remember when we took Hill 861 back in ‘17. Body aching, mind shot, only a few hours in to that epic it felt like the war would never end. I stuck with him though, even when it seemed like it was all falling apart.
Still, when Burns proposed an even longer offensive two years later, I have to admit that I hesitated at first. Country music? Isn’t that just all Garth Brooks and Deliverance? Still, 17 hours was a whole lot of excellent procrastination time to avoid working on Sex Tapes.
Burns really came through too. He always does. Taught me a lot.
One thing I found fascinating for example: what we call country music was artificial pretty much from the start. The “Hillbilly” music of the 1920s was in many ways about packaging up an idealized, simplified, feel-good past that never existed. It’s not like most of those singing cowboys were honest to God cowboys that somehow wandered onto the stage. Instead these guys based their act on earlier performers, perhaps even on stories, tall tales, dime novels, folk songs, and pulp magazines. Which is weird to think about because many of these performers are what we popularly imagine cowboys to be like! That’s not to say those singing cowboys didn’t have any real life experience or weren’t singing about real emotions, it’s just a fascinating way of understanding where some modern notions come from.
And just as importantly, while watching I came to understand that Country music means a lot to a whole lot of people. For me to dismiss it just because it doesn’t speak much to me personally was to implicitly dismiss all those people’s feelings. I mean it’s not like a lot of the music I listen to isn’t also pretty silly: banjo vs synth, neon vs pickups, mother vs AOL. All just different flavors of the same sort of bullshit.
Which is not to say that just because someone out there likes something that that something can’t be bullshit too. Maybe what I’ve come to realize though is that true bullshit is not a particular type of content, it’s all about how you relate to that content (excluding that which actually hurts people of course, for which bullshit is not nearly a strong enough word). I guess to me, true bullshit is thoughtlessly accepting something just because it is easy or feels good or is trendy or traditional or someone told you to. I’m not trying to sound like some hipster who only likes organic small-batch bullshit, I’m just advocating for being a thoughtful connoisseur of your bullshit, whatever that bullshit is.
But on the other hand, maybe that whole argument is bullshit too. For if how you relate to something is all that really matters, doesn’t that imply that even Goop connoisseurship can be commendable? Wouldn’t the logical conclusion be a society where all that matters are bellyfeels? Where it’s acceptable, even laudable, to retreat into Neverlands? Where everything—all content, all ideas, all points of view—are equal so long as you only believe hard enough? And all with a sickening lack of self-awareness over how profoundly bullshit it all is?
I don’t know but that’s not the type of bullshit I’m advocating for.
Bringing it all back: I know there are men who really identify with a stereotypical version of masculinity. It means a great deal to them. And you know what, I can respect that! As long as that their actions are not hurting other people, they have thought it through, and they are truly happy being that, great!
What bothers me is knowing that a lot of men were pressured into accepting a restrictive definition. And, even of those men who happily accepted this definition, how many of them have tried to understand all the ways in which it is bullshit before deciding independently that they still want to believe in it. How many men have felt free to make it their own? I’m speaking from personal experience here. Growing up, I felt like my only choices were to be: a man, a gay man, or a dweeb. The definitions of each were kind of set in stone. There was nothing for me to own. That was bullshit.
That’s something I’ve been trying to change. Just another stage of my lifelong quest to craft meaning out of bullshit I guess. Or maybe this is all just another sign that I’ve crawled so far up my own asshole that I don’t even know what true bullshit is anymore.
I remember the only time someone hit on me without me initiating anything. It was in Paris. Happened twice actually.
The first time I was out at night with my camera shooting the empty window displays of high fashion stores. The second, I was riding the Metro around aimlessly, photographing torn up advertising posters. You know that for like two bucks you can spend like all day going from station to station!
I was so surprised the first time it happened I didn’t know what to say. She said something to me in French. I don’t know French. She said something to me in English. I didn’t know that either. Finally I managed to stammer something stupid about photographing concrete. She smiled.
I’ve been going around Seattle with my camera for years and can probably count the number of times anyone has said anything to me on one hand, well anything besides, “Hey! This is private property!” or, “Hey! What are you doing there!?!” I do remember talking with a homeless lady about old Minolta cameras once.
Paris though… City of love! Plus some concrete. No wonder artists like it.
Things started to turn around in college. Once I had places of my own during internships and during junior year, there wasn’t the same pressure to be someone who I didn’t want to be. Or rather, there wasn’t the same pressure that left me feeling it was better to try being invisible. I could just ignore all that bullshit.
So I slowly started to experiment. Not as in dying my hair purple or becoming bisexual experimenting . Think more boring. Think more Denial of Death. Think having more platonic friends. And maybe a bit of non-platonic experimenting too but still pretty tame stuff. You have to understand that back then, I was still kind of ashamed to admit that I was into female sexual pleasure. Admitting that somehow seemed rather unmanly, which in retrospect is just about the stupidest idea ever.
It’s taken me almost a decade to get to this place. Lots of small steps. Besides, you know how much procrastination you can fit into ten years? Probably almost five whole Ken Burns series worth! Plus, I didn’t have anyone to follow. That’s how it had to be though. I had to do it for myself.
My projects exploring sexuality also certainly had role too. They were almost forcing functions. The first one for example just tasked me to write anything about sexuality. Later ones introduced new personal challenges while letting me express and explore my ideas.
Looking back, the biggest thing I’ve come to understand is how masculine cliches hurt everyone. Both women and men. And we don’t talk about the male side enough. How much is lost by reducing male emotion to a small set of simple states: happy, angry, drunk, horny, …? By reducing male motivations to generic terms such as power, honor, or respect? By reducing male sexuality to purely physical terms?
Such cliches certainly hurt men like me. But they also hurt manly men like my Dad. When my dad and I talk about women for example, our conversations usually stick to shallow cliches, which is sad because I know that he actually has a lot more to say. I know that most men have a lot more to say.
One bit of irony: for me, rejecting the restrictive vision of masculinity I learned growing up has involved embracing some of its most campy, over-the-top aspects. I became a disciple of Roger Corman and Lloyd Kaufman, a connoisseur of Sylvester Stallone and Danger 5. And I came to love the exploitation aesthetic , even experimenting with expressing myself using it.
Still, even though I know I’ve come a long way, I am self-conscious recounting my story. Because it all seems so small and silly compared to the stories I see celebrated in the media. It’s not some grand celebration of a sexual awakening. It’s not a story from someone who has been overlooked for far too long. It’s not even a good romance. I mean, you know that the most sensual experience I’ve ever had involved fake VR and party balloons? God, compared to the stories Hemingway or those French writers tell…? But then again, I can still hear the soundtrack and it’s got some absolutely killer synths. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
And this is not the end of the story either. For one thing I still haven’t really figured out: how am I supposed to express myself beyond projects like Sex Tapes. How can I show you the type of man I am when I look like all the rest? How can I show you how much you mean to me when I’m so wary of making you uncomfortable that I hesitant to even hint how much I care? I guess what I really need here is your help.
Plus, something about helping out my fellow man and all that…
HUMAN BEING. You’re one. At least, if you aren’t, you know you’re a Martian or a trained dolphin or Shalmaneser.
(If you want me to tell you more than that, you’re out of luck. There’s nothing more anybody can tell you.)
Hooking up using a sex machine that stores data on paper tape…. Ok I guess that’s actually pretty cyberpunk!
So next December, when your friend starts in with the whole, “Die Hard is the best Christmas movie…”, put them in their place by saying, “Well maybe that’s what a casual pop culture nerd like you would believe, but I personally prefer Sex Tapes!”
Then, if they argue the point, just mention the Christmas setting, Emerald Cities, and that “die hard” scene with the explosions.
There's three billion base pairs and four billion years of progress for you!
I would have said "love" again but you'd still think I was lying. Also, I wasn't just talking about physical connections.
I am looking for... I am looking for someone.
I am looking for someone whose hand to hold while watching the sunset. Someone who thinks a fun New Year's Eve is bouldering in the dark at Joshua Tree. Someone who thinks an adventure is spending the day looking for a ghost town in the desert and never finding it. Someone to watch bad movies with. Someone to cry hysterically with while listening to The Midnight after taking ecstasy. Someone to print letterpress cards for. Someone to cook quiche for. Someone who I can bring physical pleasure to. Someone whose body I can worship because it is theirs. Someone who I can delight intellectually. Someone who I can make smile with my puns and snarky comments and obscure references. Someone who has interests and passions and a life of their own that I can support and yet who will also play along with stupid projects like this. And I'm looking for so, so much more.
I am looking for a life partner who I can love unconditionally and who can love me back despite of all my faults. Because I am lost without you. Lost in ways that I can't even express.
And I know it's too much. I know that I am looking for someone that never existed and will never exist. And yet I still know that I should be out there searching anyways. But I just can't, because I'm so scared of going through my whole life without ever finding you that sometimes I can't make myself look anymore.
As the date kept getting closer, I kept …
Bla bla bla.
Why keep pretending I still care about telling that story?
Sex Tapes scared me. The idea of putting myself out there and potentially looking very silly scared me. The idea of meeting up with a stranger to actually pull off the thing scared me. The likelihood of letting them down scared me.
This was never an easy project for me. I designed it that way.
But you what know scared me even more? Admitting that I was actually interested in Sex Tapes in the first place.
For although I’ve built my own identity and my own vision of what it means to be a man, I also recognize that this project—along with some of the ways I creatively express myself more broadly—do share superficialities with that shallow, stereotypical version of masculinity that I struggled to overcome for so long. I get that Sex Tapes could be problematic. And I get that I’ve made some bad jokes and double entendres in this write-up. But understand: I really enjoy this stuff! This feels honest to me, even if honesty meant admitting some things here that were probably better left unsaid. Because when you get right down to it, they actually aren’t bad things. All of this is just bits of who I am. And yes, I still laugh at very non-progressive movies like New Year’s Evil and Olga’s House of Shame. And I still love the Loaded with Love EP from Nightstop musically and I love how trashy its cleavage album cover is. And I still like letterpressing posters with explosions and footballs on them. And I still like looking at women. And I still think about being with them all the time. I do not deny it. I am not ashamed of it.
And yet I am also far, far more than what I fear those things may imply to those who do not know me, those who want to see me only in their terms. And while I perhaps haven’t done the best job arguing my case here, that’s besides the point! Even though I know who I am, part of me is still scared of being dismissed as just another toxic male. I am still scared of being labeled something that I’ve been trying to escape much of my adult life.
So in short, why did Sex Tapes scare me? I was scared of being seen as one of those dudes. You know, the kind of dude who would create a project called Sex Tapes.
Sex Tapes is me attempting to move past that.
Instead of asking, “what you would do if you weren’t afraid”, ask: “What if you were afraid and did it anyways.”
Because if you’re not afraid, you’re not trying hard enough.
Hulk sits on the bed and puts on his socks.
“You’re a hot commodity,” the woman says to Hulk.
“Yeah, right. Huh,” Hulk says.
Even Hulk Hogan needs to be told he’s handsome sometimes.
The night before.
Everything is all set. At least I hope so.
It’s late. Just got back home. First at a poetry event all about the Columbia River, then a laid-back Christmas party in a letterpress shop located inside a parking garage. Kind of punk.
Ha! Never thought I’d be going to poetry events. Never thought I’d be sitting here the night before a project like this either.
What will tomorrow be like? What will I feel? What do I feel now?
And if the machine doesn’t work?
And if she feels nothing?
And then, another thought: what if it becomes something more?
I’ve thought about this thing so long. Now it’s actually happening though? Scared yes, but what’s more strange is how normal it all feels. I’ve prepared. I’ve done everything I can to make it work. And still, that one question: what if…?
It feels like a betrayal to even contemplate. To even admit that I contemplated it. Even for a second. Because this was never about that. Honestly. It was an expression. An expression of something that I don’t have the skill or self-knowledge to put into words.
But what if…?
And then what if I discover that it’s all just been a lie? Feels like the whole thing is collapsing back in on itself…
Would that really make it wrong though?
And then, an even more troubling thought: what if it doesn’t?
“If you can dream and not make dreams your master…”
I guess I’ve finally found what I’ve been looking for this whole time.
Joke’s on me.
There is something I want to tell you: it was exciting to turn you on with my tape machine.
God that sounds stupid. But it was true! And if you’ve read this far, I hope you realize why this was so difficult for me to admit and what I truly mean when I say it.
I created this project as a commentary on hookups but the truth is that I greatly enjoyed getting to know you. I apologize if I ever came across as disinterested in you or acted too business like. I was scared. You put a lot of trust in me and I was scared of letting you down. Even now as I write this, I’m scared of letting you down. Especially with that previous section. And I’m scared that I’ve made all too much of this. Just know that I’ve tried to express something real here even if the result seems like a schizoid mess filled with bad puns, Hulk Hogan, and synths.
Why did I make it so complicated?
Here’s the simple truth: I found the experience exciting because you were curious and interested and engaged throughout it. And yes, it was exciting to see you smile while trying out a tape, and it was exciting to hear you describe which patterns were fun and which ones didn’t work so well, and it was even exciting laughing together as we tried to debug why the damn thing sometimes wouldn’t connect. In short, it was exciting because it was a unique experience that I shared with you.
I’m very glad to have met you.
“Be cool,” he says to the woman on his way out the door.
They thank each other for the sex.
“You’re awesome,” Hulk says on his way out the door.
“So are you,” she says back in a very sincere way.
Hulk asks her if he should close the door on the way out.
“No, leave it open,” she says.
Off he went.
Sex Tapes. It was born out of a pun. I worked on it for over a year. In the end, the event itself wasn’t all that spectacular.
Now here we are.
For a project that was only ever supposed to be an absurd commentary on sexual hookups, how’d it end up like this? It was never supposed to be about me. It was never supposed to take this much out of me.
Yet at some point, I just couldn’t maintain that facade anymore. Why was I putting so much work into this thing if I truly thought it was silly? And why did it scare me so much? Somewhere along the way, it’d become real. The execution of the project itself had become a better piece of commentary on intimacy than the product ever could have been. It had started to really mean something to me, far more than I was ready to admit at first in fact.
With the distance of time, I think the Sex Tapes project was originally an elaborate safe space I built to play around with relationships. To try putting myself out there again. Because it’s not easy for me. I’m no good at it. As odd as it may sound, partnering up with a punch machine helped a lot.
Similarly, working through Sex Tapes gave me a safe space to explore questions I had been putting off for a long time: what does being a man mean to me? How do I express my sexuality? How do I relate to women? Too often as a teenager, I’d let others define this for me and then felt like a loser when I couldn’t match their small and boring vision. And although I’d long since built my own adult identity, part of me was still scared of being associated with something I never was and never wanted to be. Sex Tapes is a step in trying to finally move past all that. Towards what exactly? Who knows.
What is there left to say?
Sex Tapes. It was silly. I have to admit I’m still a little embarrassed by this all actually. Yet it still meant a great deal to me.
I’m glad it went down like this.