There’s evidence that D.H. Lawrence enjoyed an erotic power exchange relationship with his wife, that James Joyce was into scat (among other things), and that Oscar Wilde—well, most of us know what Oscar Wilde liked. These literary geniuses explored radical sexual agency and desire in their work and in their relationships, but little beyond rumors and personal letters exist to tell us what they themselves thought of their turn-ons and the ways in which those dovetailed with their writing. Even if space for such a discourse and community had existed back then, Lawrence, Joyce and Wilde couldn’t freely discuss their sexuality. As it was, they faced censorship and generated scandal wherever they went, and of course Wilde went to prison for his sexual behavior.
Although our world is still intolerant of sexual difference, I want to believe we’re at a point where people can speak openly about the consensual ways we express our erotic selves. And I’m interested in the connections between those private expressions and the larger, more public work we do in the world. This series is meant as a forging of community; a validation of that which gets called sexual deviance; and a proud celebration of the complex, fascinating ways that humans experience desire.
In this ongoing series of short personal essays, writers in all genres—novelists, poets, journalists, and more—explore the intersection between our literary lives and practices and our BDSM and fetishistic lives and practices. In other words, these essays aren’t about writing about non-normative sex: rather, it’s a series about how looking at the world through the lens of an alternative sexual orientation influences the modes and strategies with which one approaches one’s creative work.
If you have questions or comments, or if you’re a writer who would like to contribute, please contact me at [email protected].
–Arielle Greenberg, Series Editor
Sub Bottom Pig Slut Cumdump: Abject Erotics and the Poetics of Abjection
I am a sub bottom pig slut cumdump (with grace notes of leather, bondage, discipline, slavery, watersports, masochism, pup play, butt play, hole stretching, and fisting). I think most people reading this essay know what sub is in fetish sex and what a bottom is in gay sex.
Pig is maybe less commonly understood: it mystified me for a long time. Based on info gleaned from gay hookup apps, it seemed to mean you liked sweat and smells, which I don’t particularly. But the more I read and chatted, the more clear it became that piggy sex is a sort of gay male sexual analog to philosopher Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject as described in her influential 1982 piece, “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection.” The abject is whatever we cannot wrap our heads around as being either a subject (a person like you or me) or an ordinary object (a thing like brunch or Manolo Blahniks): it’s rather a “jettisoned object” that makes us recoil in horror, like a corpse or rotting garbage. The abject also includes human products that we are fine with as long as they stay contained in the body (blood, urine, feces) but become repulsive once they leave the body.
Being piggy, then, means opening yourself up to the abject—quite literally opening yourself up. So, yes, sweat and smells (socks, feet, armpits, crotches, etc.), but also piss and cum in you or on you, and a range of penetrative acts that tends to leave the bottom with a sore throat, a gaping anus, and a rectum at least partially prolapsed (called a “rosebud” among aficionados).
Why do pigs get off on embracing the abject? I can’t speak for all pigs, but I can throw another theorist at you—Mikhail Bakhtin, author of the groundbreaking 1965 book Rabelais and His World, a study that includes the French Renaissance author’s sexual, scatological, urinary, and flatulistic humor. Bakhtin called this element of Rabelais’s writing the bodily grotesque, and argued that it was a literary representation of the spirit of medieval carnival, an annual festival authorized by the Church during which the common folk were allowed to temporarily upend the normal standards of behavior. According to Bakhtin, carnivalesque sites are those in which the transgressive and subversive power of the collective, an anarchic body that defies repressive authoritative structures, takes hold: the individual ceases to experience himself as an individual and becomes part of a collective, and thus, experiences abject dissolution. Again, I cannot speak for all pigs, but for me, the embrace of sexual practices that would make most people queasy or worse is not only super hot, but also profoundly transformative, a way of connecting radically with another human being, and transcending boundaries of race, class, and normative sex and gender roles.
Slut—well, everyone knows what a slut is. Again, in terms of my kink, slut is in effect reclaimed, like queer, fag, and dyke have been reclaimed, like the pink triangle has been reclaimed: words or symbols originally intended as abusive and stigmatizing (and it terms of the pink triangle, part of a visual vocabulary of a genocidal totalitarian bureaucracy) are adopted by the targeted community as signifiers of pride, survival, and self-realization. This is connected to the queer aesthetics of camp. You may think of camp as drag queens, which it is. But camp is also a way of using incongruity, theatricality, and humor to express solidarity with deviance and subvert sex and gender norms. It’s a way of dissolving boundaries between outward appearance and inner reality. (I’m stealing much of this from Esther Newton, a lesbian sociologist who wrote the germinal 1972 book Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America)—again, bringing us back both to Kristevan abjection and Bakhtinian carnival. All of these modes—abjection, carnival, camp—have to do with transgressing cultural boundaries and subverting repressive social norms.
And it is super important to note that slut is a term traditionally applied only or primarily to heterosexual women, in contexts where they were expected to be chaste before marriage and sexually exclusive within marriage. (Yes, feel free to call those contexts “patriarchy.”) For an unmarried woman to take men’s cocks into her vagina was abject; for a married woman to take into her vagina the cocks of men other than her husband was abject. Not to mention taking their cum. Potentially having their babies. So for a gay man to embrace a slut identity is on the one hand a camp gesture akin to drag and to the language practices of reading and shade (different terms for the kind of campy trash-talking you see every season on RuPaul’s Drag Race). On the other hand, it is a reparative gesture that transgressively reinscribes the semantics of slutishness as part of a fetish kink vocabulary of abject erotics. (For Austrian-British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein’s idea of reparation and how it can be applied to the healing of gay shame, see Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s 1997 essay, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading; or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is about You,” the introduction to her book of essays called Novel Gazing. For transgressive reinscription, see British cultural-materialist literary critic Jonathan Dollimore’s 1991 book Sexual Dissidence.)
Cumdump. I don’t know how long that term has been around, but it has a very specific meaning in the post-HIV/AIDS world. A cumdump is a man who likes men to cum while fucking him bareback up the ass. Bareback=no condom. Also referred to as “fucking raw.” Considered the opposite of “safe sex,” though in fact, “safe sex” terminology is becoming outdated. (Although for me to assert this remains controversial as of this writing, since many people still do adhere to the discourse and notion of “safe sex”). The idea of safe sex, or as some people used to prefer, safer sex, comes from a time when we didn’t even know what caused AIDS, although it was clearly spread through sex, and disproportionately among gay men. Even once we knew that HIV caused AIDS, condom use remained the best protection against getting infected if you were HIV-negative, or transmitting the virus to sex partners if you were HIV-positive. But then we entered the age of HIV treatment, known as antiretroviral therapy. An HIV-positive man who is virologically suppressed on antiretroviral therapy (he’s taking his meds and has no detectible virus in his blood) has an extremely low risk of transmitting HIV to an uninfected partner. Moreover, the use of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, a pill you take daily to prevent HIV infection) by HIV-negative men allows these men to have bareback sex with positive partners with that same extremely low risk of HIV infection. Put together a poz man undetectable on meds with a neg man on PrEP, and you have a situation where bareback sex is no more risky than sex with a condom. It is, in fact, “protected sex,” but using medication for protection rather than latex. (Note, however, that PrEP does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, or herpes, all of which are resurgent among gay men, particularly since the advent of PrEP. For protection against these and other STDs, a condom remains your best bet.) Like slut, cumdump is a pejorative term intended to shame and stigmatize. But as soon as I started calling myself a cumdump on my hookup app profiles, I felt empowered—truer to myself and much sexier. Sure, it was a certain kind of sexy, and not everyone’s kind of sexy (one guy I hit up on Grindr recently simply replied, “You’re gross,” and I blocked him), but it was who and what I was, and naming it felt really good.
So, to summarize, for me to assume a sub bottom pig slut cumdump sexual identity is to reparatively embrace an erotics of abjection that transgressively reinscribes culturally unacceptable forms of sexual submission, penetration, indiscriminacy, promiscuity, and risk-taking. In other words, it’s very hot and very liberating.
In terms of “writing while deviant,” I think the key term in my kink is sub. In a way, sub is what it’s all about, and bottom, pig, slut, and even cumdump simply refine the expression of my role in kind or degree. That is, I’m not just any old bottom—lots of gay men like to get fucked. I’m a sub bottom pig slug cumdump. Makes me think of the lines from the old XTC song “Snowman”: “People will always be tempted to wipe their feet / on anything with ‘Welcome’ written on it.”
Submissive in the kink sense does not mean meek. Far from it. The noun form of the meek “submissive” is submissiveness; the noun form of the kinky “submissive” is submission. Submissiveness submits to dominance; submission submits to domination. Submitting to domination takes fucking cojones, man. Downcast eyes and “Yes, Sir”/“No, Sir” are just the beginning. Submission is doing as you’re told and taking what you are given. But more than that—and I think this is really the essence of sexual submission—it’s doing as you’re told and taking what you’re given with pleasure, eagerness, even gratitude. Including insertable objects—natural or synthetic, solid or liquid, a cock or a butt plug, beer or piss—down your throat or up your ass. But also, and just as importantly, taking orders—and not just taking orders, but wanting orders, loving orders, exulting in orders, getting rock hard from being told to keep your legs together, your back arched, your ass in the air; being told to get on your back, to spread those legs, spread those legs wider, open that ass, open that fucking asshole, open up that fucking asshole wider, you fucking slut!
Does that kind of submission translate into a strategy for approaching the writing of poetry? If I am a sub poet, is poetry as a genre my dom? Is the particular poem I’m working on my dom? Is the poem telling me to open up my fucking asshole wider? Yes, I believe it is. Okay, fine. Poetry is telling me to open my fucking sub bottom pig slut cumdump asshole wider. But what is my poetry asshole? What am I supposed to open, and how, and to what end?
My poetry asshole is my craft. My poetry asshole is my language, my use of language, my stories, structures, music, my imagination (gratia Gregory Orr’s “Four Temperaments and the Forms of Poetry” in the book Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World, edited by Gregory Orr and Ellen Bryant Voigt). Take it deeper, poetry orders me. Don’t pull away from my cock, you little bitch, poetry warns me. We talk about craft “serving” the poem. We talk about a sub serving his dom. In that sense, all poets are subs, regardless of sex or sexual orientation (dominatrix much?). But I don’t think all poets are poetic sub bottom pig slut cumdumps. In order to be a poetic sub in the specific sense I am talking about, you have to stop talking about “mastering your craft,” and embrace the idea that your craft masters you, that you serve your craft. Open that hole up wider, bitch!
My kink commands me to open up my craft. How do I do this? When I mentor other poets, I use a very technical term for this process of opening one’s craft: I call it “fucking shit up.” Just get it down on the page, I tell the emerging poet. However it comes to your mind, in ordinary Standard Written English, or not, whatever, get it down on the page. Then, when you think you’ve got it down on the page, when you’ve gotten a little distance from it, left it alone for a few hours or a couple of days, come back to it, and fuck shit up. Play with the voice, the address; see how much explication you can delete before it becomes incomprehensible; see how you feel about comprehensibility, because maybe this poem wants to be incomprehensible on some level. Maybe Sir Craft is telling you, fuck comprehensibility, you fucking slut, I want to see that poem loose and sloppy and dripping with incomprehensibility. Turn nouns into verbs, adjectives into adverbs; scramble your syntax. Arch your poetic back and keep your poetic ass in the air, and relax that poetic asshole. Breathe. Focus on your breathing. Focus on the breath. This works in writing poetry no less than in taking a big fat dildo up your ass or getting your thighs flogged bright red.
What is the point of poetic submission? I come back to that key word, open, which ties together this analogy between sub bottom sex and sub bottom poetics. For me, it’s about remaining open to poetic possibilities: of sound, structure, image, idea, voice, tone, register, content matter, formal energy.
But the poem is only part of the equation. What about the reader or listener? The first thing I think of is a BDSM club that holds meetings or classes with demonstrations. A roomful of people, most wearing at least a touch of their favorite leather gear, sitting on folding chairs, eyes turned toward a stage or platform or perhaps just a mat on a bare floor, where a sub is serving a dom, and a dom is working a sub. There is rope; there are gags and blindfolds; there are clothespins on nipples and scrotum; there are paddles and floggers and the nice round thwack of paddle striking soft chest, and then the higher, thinner, reedier thwing of flogger on buttock or thigh. The sub winces only a little, now and then. Mostly he takes it with equanimity and gratitude. He is so privileged to be serving this dom, to be setting the example of submission before all these admiring eyes, people who have so much to learn from him, people who need his submission as much as he needs to submit. Good boy!
My reader is like the spectator in the audience at the bondage and discipline demo. They need the poem, derive pleasure from the poem. Maybe they gain insight, perspective, knowledge, even wisdom. Maybe joy awaits them in the poem. Or pain, sadness, or discomfort. In any case, they find in it something necessary, something that will make them better for having read it. And that poem is born of my submission to my craft—Sir Craft, Master Craft—who has mastered me, dominated me, commanded me to open my poetic asshole wider and wider, and I obeyed, Yes Sir, with gratitude, I obeyed, Yes Master, with a pleasure and joy of my own, or maybe with pain, sadness, or discomfort. It’s all part of the deal, part of the identity. I leaned against a pillar one night under the boardwalk of poetry, and Craft came up to me and unzipped his shorts, and I sank to my knees, and a poem was born.
Piggy gay men also call cumdump sex “taking loads,” “breeding” and “getting bred,” terms that clearly invoke a heterosexual reproductive metaphor that analogizes the bottom to a woman and his anus to a vagina. All of which is fine with me. All of which is HOT. But as a credentialed classicist, I cannot end without tying all of this back to Plato’s Symposium, in which Socrates’s mentor, a woman philosopher named Diotima, explains to Socrates that in gay male love, the dom top inseminates the sub bottom with words and thoughts, artistic or philosophical ideas, and the children the sub bottom gives birth to are not biological but intellectual: music, art, insights into the workings of the natural world, laws beneficial to the state, and, yes, poetry.
Rumpus original logo and art by Liam Golden.