Friday, September 21, 2012

Channelling Dick

by Jean Roberta

Ever since I first began telling stories to myself in childhood, I’ve been attracted to the role-playing which seemed at the time to be part of the essential glamour (i.e. spell-casting) of writing fiction, poetry or drama.

The tendency of other people to treat me in certain ways (patronizing when I was young) in what passed for Real Life gave me an urge to escape from all that by writing from other viewpoints. This seemed like a harmless adventure before any of my fiction was published.

Then came the feminist roar of disapproval for “appropriation” in various forms: cultural appropriation, “appropriation of voice.” How dare I? If I persisted in this folly, I could be ostracized by the Politically Correct, tarred-and-feathered in the social media, and possibly sued. (If this looks like an expression of paranoia, look up the history of The Women’s Press of Toronto, Canada.)

By the time I was thoroughly shaken by the righteous boundary-fixing of some literary critics (to use the term loosely), I was writing erotica. Did I have to limit myself to describing sex I had actually had? Egad. That would expose my current and past lovers/playmates to the same scorn I was exposing myself to. True Confessions can also lead to lawsuits. Not to mention that I hadn’t done everything that is sexually possible, or even everything I would like to try. What to do?

I realized that to avoid giving offense at all, to anyone, I would probably have to stop writing anything. I wasn’t willing to do that.

Luckily, I had experienced sex (even great, memorable, fabulous sex) with men and women before I ever wrote about it. So I could write het and lesbian erotica based on what I knew in a carnal sense. However, I couldn’t actually experience male/female sex or male/male sex in a male body, and the possibility of “channeling dick” in a story intrigued me. This phrase has been used to describe actual sex between women in which one of them seems to have a kind of psychic phallus (if not an actual strap-on or hand-held device), also known as “male” energy.

Whenever I’ve tried writing a first-person story from a man’s viewpoint, I think of it as “channeling Dick,” or seeing the world through the eyes of a kind of representative character who is more than his body. This has meant listening, as non-judgmentally as I can, to complaints from men which often sound to me like the whines of the over-privileged.

Recently, I was honoured by a gay-male friend who read an m/m story of mine, and told me, blushing, that he liked it. I couldn’t imagine higher praise. Here is the opening scene:

“We have a prop for you today, Johnny,” purred the avant-garde lesbian-feminist art instructor I thought of as Ms. Muff. I hated the way she used the royal “we,” and I hated her version of my French-Canadian name, Jean.

There’s something about being naked in a roomful of fully-dressed people that makes it hard for me to assert myself. In fact, trying not to get hard usually took up most of my energy. I stood quietly, forcing my arms to stay at my sides, while Ms. Muff strutted around me in her black jeans, tossing her sun-bleached hair and looking amused. She probably fantasized about cutting me up and serving choice bits as hors d’oeuvres at the next lesbian brunch or gallery opening.

“Face the ladder,” she ordered, “then hold onto the rung at your chin-level. Can you hold that pose without moving for thirty minutes?”

Even with the eyes of twenty-five students, mostly women over thirty, on my boyish derriere, I had my pride. I couldn’t refuse the challenge. “Sure,” I answered loudly enough for my audience to hear.

As I settled into my pose, I could almost hear the silent laughter of the mid-life dyke set as they studied my chestnut hair, the long muscles in my back, my firm ass and my hairy legs. I was a young male specimen to them. On their Amazon planet, I would be lucky to be kept alive for stud service
(from “Focal Point”)

In real life, I now belong to “the mid-life dyke set,” although I’m not a student in an art class. (Years ago, I was a nude model, and this story is loosely based on my experience.) Seriously, I’ve never wanted to cut a man up and serve him as hors d’oeuvres at a lesbian brunch, but I have heard men fantasize aloud that some women (especially those who don’t date men) fantasize about this. Fears are real, even if they seem—well, I won’t go there now.

I can never be sure how well my experiments in fictional role-playing succeed, but evidence that I haven’t offended those whose consciousness I “appropriate” seems like a good sign.

Here is the opening of a story named “Moonbeam” which I felt had to be written from the viewpoint of someone who considers himself a “regular guy,” a man who meets a woman in a bar and invites her home for the night:

"Years ago, there was a character named Moonbeam in a comic strip in the newspaper. She was a hillbilly with tits and hips and pouty lips, dressed in rags that barely covered her essentials. She liked to hang out with the pigs, and she always had flies around her. Moonbeam somehow looked luscious and repulsive at the same time.

I think of a certain woman I know as Moonbeam, even though she grew up in a city and her real name doesn’t sound like a joke. I know her all over, inside and out, from her dyed-black hair to her breasts (one with an inverted nipple) to her deep, tight pussy to her thin legs and long-toed feet. I don’t really know if my carnal knowledge makes me responsible for her. I know that her lingering smell in my nose and the feel of her hand on my balls embarrass the hell out of me.

Stories like this are at least as interesting for me to write as for others to read. I have written from the viewpoints of characters who are different from me in various physical and cultural ways, and I always hope to use them as lenses on the world (as M. Christian explained in his post on this topic) rather than stereotypes.

“Channelling Dick” is a way to try broadening my perspective. In the above story, I can more-or-less understand why a character like Moonbeam would behave the way she does, but how would a decent-enough guy respond to her? To what extent would he feel responsible for her emotional well-being? I needed to find out.

Ultimately, writing the “other” seems to be one way to expand the self.


  1. If you thought the "appropriation wars" were bad, try publishing an m/m story involving the prophet Muhammed. :)

  2. Hi, Jean,

    I like this term ("channeling Dick"). I'm not sure I do it very well, though, because most of the men with whom I've been close have been extremely atypical, with very strong feminine sides.

    I've never seen either of these stories of yours, though. They both sound well worth reading.

  3. Jean - Ooh, I hear you about the appropriation wars. They were almost over by the time I started writing but the fallout lingered. (Most notably with the whole Lambda Literary 'the writer must be an avowed member of our community' fiasco) It always goes back to 'does the writer matter more than the work?' When you dare to channel dick, you're saying no.

  4. Thanks to all for your comments.
    Lisabet, the gay-male reader I mentioned found my story "Focal Point" somewhere on-line (it was published several years ago by Justus Roux). "Moonbeam" was in my first single-author collection, Obsession, now out of print. Oh well. If anyone here wants to read either story, just ask me & I will send them by email.
    Heh, Anonymous. You brighten my day. (I'm so glad a fatwa has not been delcared against me - hoping to stay under all religious radars.)
    Kathleen, oh yes, the wars over "queer lit" continue. I continue to try convincing the various "people of colour" who are close to me that even if all white writers agreed not to include a single character "of colour" in
    their work, ever, this really wouldn't create more space for writers "of colour" to survive & flourish. (If it did, that would be a different case.)


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