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Pornography, miniature golf & Aretha

by Roberto Friedman

"The Paradox of Porn" author Don Shewey. Photo: Courtesy the author
"The Paradox of Porn" author Don Shewey. Photo: Courtesy the author  

Author Don Shewey is a therapist whose work with gay men concerns issues of sex and intimacy. He has a lot of wisdom and experience to share in his new book "The Paradox of Porn - Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture" (Joybody Books). The paradox of the title can be summed up thus: Pornography is a force for sex positivity in the face of repression and the denial of pleasure. But it also distorts the way we think about sexual performance, our bodies and our sexual partners.

In his practice, Shewey counsels clients to resist "expecting your partner or yourself to Perform Like a Porn Star," suggesting that they spend some time developing other forms of intimacy "free of pressure to make something specific happen." He notes that sexual encounters that are modeled on porn "almost never include conversation about what you feel or what you want."

He doesn't discount the role of porn in sexual education and encouraging sexual exploration, and as the ultimate in safe sex. "Pornography does a lousy job if you try to use it as a sex manual," Shewey writes. "It excels, however, when it comes to educating the erotic imagination." He makes a fascinating connection between how porn can speak "darker and deeper truths about bodies" to adolescents in the way that fairy tales thrill children by including monsters, dark magic and danger.

Of course, the internet has accelerated our access to porn, and to every syndrome it brings with it. The easy stimulation of internet porn can make non-virtual connection difficult or tame in comparison, a condition Shewey dubs "Sexual Attention Deficit Disorder (SADD)."

And of course, there is the longstanding paradox of porn: that it suggests we must exhibit impossibly high standards of beauty and sexual prowess in order to be desirable as sexual partners. "Intelligent gay men only have to look around to know that there are 150 different body types in the world. Yet extreme body-consciousness has long been a key feature in gay male culture, and the ubiquity of pornography has amplified it exponentially."

Based on extensive real-world experience with his clients in therapy and his own experience, Shewey has a good perspective on the ways that our immersion in a highly eroticized environment, and easy access to performative sex, both turn us on and further inhibit us. Given how pervasive porn is in the gay male world, it's encouraging to read a thoughtful and clear-eyed analysis of how it impacts and shapes our sexual lives.

Putt-putt pass

Out There was out on the course when Stagecoach Greens, San Francisco's only outdoor miniature golf attraction, opened with a VIP party last week. The 18-hole, artist-created golf course, at 1379 4th St. in the Mission Bay neighborhood, takes San Francisco history as its theme. So every hole has a hook like "Barbary Coast Saloon" or "Gold Rush Graveyard." Players putt around an "Ocean Beach Bonfire" or through the "Sutro Fog." A "Walk in the Woods" is a tour through Golden Gate Park, while "Dragon's Gate" evokes Chinatown.

The urbanist in us loves how this previously barren space has been energized with people and life. All the fairways are accessible to the disabled, as a barrier to each green could move on a hinge to remove obstruction. It's all a lot of good clean fun: find more info at www.stagecoachgreens.com.


Aretha Franklin by Milton Glaser (1968), color photolithographic poster, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Photo: Milton Glaser  

Since she's been gone

Our writer in Bangkok Tim Pfaff reports: "Waaaay down in my exploding Twitter timeline, two items in a row saluted the King of Rock, Elvis Presley, who died 41 years to the day before the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, did last Thursday. I leave that for the astrologers to explain, but it got my attention.

"The first time I heard Aretha was just after breaking away from home, driving a 1959 DeSoto much too fast because 'Since You've Been Gone' was on the radio, and all of me swelled up. Not long after, I hitchhiked 250 miles to Minneapolis to hear her for myself. The packed crowd in Northrop Auditorium was on edge after the announcement, 'Miss Franklin is ill. She wants to perform for you, but-' But something, because no one left.

"Five warm-up acts and a change of day on the calendar later, Aretha appeared, if, she confessed, missing an octave on either end of her range, leaving her three. For the next hour she tore the place apart, nothing missing that anyone noticed.

"Aretha has always retained the crown she's now taken off to Glory. We were prepared for her departure, but my Bangkok neighbors may have wondered what came over me those last days. Listening to me listening to big-voiced ladies was nothing new, but this voice irritated no one and prompted queries in the elevator.

"That Thursday night, I signed off with the 13-minute 'Amazing Grace' she sang for the congregation at her father's Detroit church in January 1972, from a two-LP set I bought new. I thought I'd leave it there, but come morning the tributes were still taking up whole-hour news blocks.

"Since she's been gone, I've mostly listened to 'People Get Ready' ('for the train to Jordan'), about the right uses of religion. Just when I thought I had reached saturation, some station punked me with a song I also bought new on LP, in 1970, and its thunder-clap piano intro squeezed projectile tears out of me. On TV, people who had days to prepare their remarks were tongue-tied when not completely at a loss for words. Then, as if from 'over Jordan,' Aretha sang the right ones: 'You Send Me.'"

Photojournalist Cornelius Washington writes: "As a child, living in New Orleans less than a mile away from the docks of the Mississippi River, living above a bar and lounge, I grew up living day and night for the sound of Aretha Franklin's voice. As a dancer and choreographer, to me her sound was the root and foundation to enticing the world to give in and let go. She transcended genres and mindsets around race, gender and socio-economic class structures.

"Aretha Franklin will forever be the sound of the African diaspora. She will forever be the Queen of Soul. Long live the Queen."


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