The Sistine Chapel ceiling is sexy. Adam, nude, lounging back, he thrusts his limp penis at the audience, lets it hang onto tourists, religious or otherwise. Consider the romance, the joyous sensuality of his pose. His eyes hold a “come, come touch my finger” expression and God obliges. They will embrace. The rest of the ceiling contains nudes in similar poses of desire, frescoes that not only render the Bible’s drama, but express it in the desire demanded from the New and Old Testament. There is love, tragedy, flights of fancy, mistakes, erroneous and deadly. The simplicity of a muscular waist line can twirl a bowtie. Somewhere across the Atlantic, Americans lost these forms of desire, they sunk down to the seabed, burrowed into the sand, left unexcavated.
A furtive glance at history would blame Martin Luther for this outcome. Latin American and Caribbean Culture have maintained these forms of romance in spite of their similar hemisphere and history of colonialism. These romances exist above the Mexican border for sure, but they are shrouded behind and mediated by online dating and anonymous payments to OnlyFans, they don’t exist in our public square, or as a verified part of a complete life. Many of our most universal celebrities are distinctly un-sexualized: does anyone imagine Tom Hanks yearning? Donald Trump has had sex, he has raped even, but he isn’t actually sexual. Ellen, rude, abusive, has a wife, but does she fuck?
The outburst after the Cardi B song “WAP” tracks with this unsexual, even juvenile sexual culture. The pleasure derived in the song isn’t an opening of sexual discourse or complex yearning, it is honest and direct, beat it up, catch a charge. Compare this with the complicated wants of “Like a Virgin” or even “My Neck, My Back,” which though similar in motif, at least expresses an end to end sexual act. “WAP” possesses pleasure in a seeming transgression of supposedly hegemonic sexual discourse, which in reality only upsets the most repressed cranks, like Ben Shapiro. The song isn’t a rally for intimacy in sex, or even reciprocal oral sex, but a cry for an absent thing, an object to desire, someone to trust, a person who you can share in sex, honestly. It is a furtive call for capital R, Romance.
In these United States, there exists a severe lack of honesty and frankness about the lack in our sexual culture and this past week’s supposed scandal surrounding Mayor Alex Morse have accentuated that reality. Morse, a gay 31-year old mayor running for Congress, stood this week accused of “using his position of power for romantic and sexual gain” according to a letter sent to both Morse and the Massachusetts Daily Collegian from the UMass College Democrats. The specific allegations suggest Morse “matched with students on dating apps,” who were even “as young as 18.” He allegedly used College Democrats meetings to meet students and add them to his Instagram “Close Friends” story, and had sexual contact with students during and after his time lecturing at UMass. Progressive organizations such as The Sunrise Movement and Working Families Party quickly retracted their endorsements of Morse.
Three days later, The Intercept revealed these allegations to be part of a larger plan to discredit the mayor and sink his campaign against Richard Neal, a powerful, centrist House Democrat who chairs the Ways & Means Committee and has eliminated the discussion of Medicare for All from the Committee. Ryan Grim and Daniel Boguslaw reported the former President of UMass College Democrats saw Richard Neal as his “in” to politics. They later reported that the content of Morse’s supposedly lewd Instagram DMs and Close Friend’s story included things so intimate as “How’s the rest of your weekend?” and the dire “Aw that’s nice.”
If I was perhaps a more competitive person, I would gleefully dance on the careerist graves of my enemies, UMass College Dems (though I suspect the grift is far from over for these men) and I’d remind them I smelled douche water and homophobic “tropes” masquerading as justice from the start. My good sense likely came from my willful house arrest in the prison of American gay culture and dating. To describe the topography of this jailing requires some admission that I do sometimes enjoy being here; quietly, I do like my submission in the prison BDSM scene of struggling to find a man. Upon reading about the allegations against Morse, I immediately recalled my college days and my new “identity,” called “Baby Gay,” a thing I would never claim, but something placed upon me, used by my queer elders of 22 years of age to protect me from the vagaries and complexities of sex and desire. They did this, I shrugged it off, and fucked who I fucked.
What happened with Morse is actually quite simple, careerist liberals were caught being careerist liberals. Yet, their accusations hinged on sexual politics anathema to actually lived gay life and the nonspecific nature of the charges in their original letter relied on some half-formed constellation of the #MeToo Movement, heteronormative gay politics, and fuzzy radical materialism, a quintessential part of the failed Gay Liberation Front. Joan Didion, in her essay “The Women’s Movement,” describes the desire of second wave feminist thinkers for a life that mimics not the complexities of women while reckoning with the material oppression inherent in capitalism, but rather, these theorists yearned for a return to the fantasies of childhood without “the dark involvement with blood and birth and death” that comes with adulthood.
The men Alex Morse gently pursued and then sometimes had sex with were all adults. They made adult decisions about an adult act and any framing of his life as we know it as anything other than that reeks of either politics, or regret shadowed as abuse. The adult men who found Morse “creepy” have fallen into the same trap Didion described from the women’s movement. The dogmatic logic of the moment suggests that Morse is older, and a mayor, once a lecturer, and therefore has power, and he then used that power to have sex, which is wrong because they (the adult men) are less powerful. They are like children.
Power is sexy. Use of power is sexy. Displays of power have sexual energy and arousal from power comes in many forms, the submissive, the dominant, the switch. Somewhere along the lines of gay history, we ascribed heteronormative power relations onto two men in a relationship. To my mind, the bottom and the top should both be doing the dishes, folding the wash, and cooking dinner. Maybe I’m not traditional, but the top can make less money than the bottom. Call me a radical, but two Vers’s can lead a successful, healthy life together. At the same time, it can be sexy to play as if those power relations matter. Gays will always role-play as straights in the bedroom, but that script should remain there and those differences in power cannot be assigned the same implications as straight relationships.
The false accusers of Morse, the UMass College Democrats Presidents wanted career success, that much is true. But did they really think people would look at the age gap relations of gay men and blink an eye? What sort of sex life do these adult men imagine for themselves? Do they wish to be the sexless, aromantic Pete and Chasten? The accuser’s sexual ideology, which stands against age gaps, or uses of power for the purpose of sexual gratification, represents a dogma that is impossible to follow. The dogma requires an astral discontent with the slop of gay life and dating, but also an inability to name that slop as capitalist austerity and the proceeding evisceration of social relations. They ignore the seductive nature of power. These men seemingly wish to stay hidden from the reality of lived gay experience, safe from the blood, shit, disease, life, death, pills, poppers, and lube of gay life and exist in the same bloodless, limp dicked milieu of Pete and Chasten. Go ahead, I say, more poppers for me.
Perhaps, I am being as ungenerous as Morse’s accusers. I sympathize with their plight. Cruising is gone and replaced with a menu of torsos and unsolicited dick pics. Gay dating and sex can be a series of unsatisfying and boring men with all their trauma and problems and opinions. Gay men make up a fraction of the world and then you have to enjoy the person, the more significant barrier than population density in my experience. Neoliberal politicians like Richard Neal offer the opportunity to sublimate that sexual and romantic frustration into their careers, so long as you make allegations at the correct time, you will be rewarded.
Didion describes the women’s movement as wanting “not a revolution, but romance.” The same applies here. These men thought they were seizing on some sort of sexual revolution that would thrust them to the top of mainstream Democratic politics in some career quid pro quo. But our culture is in constant revolution while our politics stay stagnant; neoliberalism has very good instincts of when to upend. Our lives however, exist with the sanguine joys of desire or the crushing emotions of full perception: we are always naked, never nude. If I may advise the Baby Gays and borrow the ideological parlance of the day, let me call them in: Sweeties, hello, romance exists and so does gay sex that you may not like, I promise it’s okay. May I suggest you release your careerist ambitions and get fucked, like God fucked Adam.