Dawson: A Scholar’s Viewby Mark Adnum
“… there may be a strange kinship between words carved into a tree trunk and semen ejaculated into a rectum: both aspire to leave permanent traces; yet both must acknowledge the ultimate futility of their efforts to outpace mortality.” – Tim Dean, Unlimited Intimacy.
Tim Dean’s book Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking is a dark and dazzling exploration of barebacking and the subculture that has grown around it. Dean investigates with impartiality, neither censuring nor celebrating.
He locates the language parent of the “pig play” and “woof” vernacular in the fable The Three Little Pigs. He follows an intricate study of “breeding” as the heart of an elaborately retrograde lean towards a need for blood-borne kinship. There’s an extended look at the films of Paul Morris, and the odd quote from Francois Sagat.
A terrific book, Unlimited Intimacy is also proof positive that academics – Dean is a professor of English at the University of Buffalo – can also be gifted writers, able to communicate complex thoughtstreams in evocative language that can be accessed by a broad audience.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 2, “Representing Raw Sex”:
The connections among breeding, tattooing, and carving legends into trees are dramatized in the opening scenes of Meat Rack (Treasure Island Media, 2005), a bareback movie directed by Max Sohl, who is the New York representative of Paul Morris‘ West Coast company. Set in the longtime gay oasis of Fire Island Pines, the movie refers in its title to the infamous wooded area of the Pines where for generations men have cruised for sex.
Cleverly evoking the permanence-transience dialectic in its credits, the video opens with a shot of its handsome star, Dawson, using a stick to trace on the beach the words “Treasure Island Media presents”; the following shot shows a wave gently washing away his careful inscription. Next, in the wooded area of the “meat rack,” Dawson cruises leather daddy Joe Sarge and heavily tattooed Chris Neal, who sports inked designs even on the shaft and head of his penis.
After a scene in which Joe Sarge and Chris Neal both fuck and “breed” Dawson at his request, the camera silently pans to a weathered carving on one of the nearby trees, which reads “SAFE SEX 2002.” As he walks away, with the camera focused on his cum-filled butt, Dawson passes another slender tree, which bears the legend “SAFE SEX PINES ->.” Far from ignoring the safe-sex imperative, this film registers it only to consciously reject condom use and unabashedly celebrate semen ingestion. Behind the deliberate irony of these cuts, there may be an acknowledgment of the strange kinship between both words carved into a tree trunk and semen ejaculated into a rectum: both aspire to leave permanent traces; yet both must acknowledge the ultimate futility of their efforts to outpace mortality.
By juxtaposing shots of Dawson’s anal breeding with shots of traces left in the “meat rack” some years prior, this scene evokes not only the presence of men who cruised the pines and might return next summer but also the ghosts of those lost to AIDS who will never return in person.
Evoking spectral presences in this way creates a sense of history, suggesting that the wooded area in which the sex occurs constitutes a not simply a bucolic natural setting but also an intensely historical landscape, a place where memories of previous generations linger.
Connecting with a leather daddy and a tattooed punk in the woods, our youthful protagonist and may be accessing though sex a connection with gay history and community, even as he differentiates his actions from those of “safe-sex” cruising.
Tim Dean’s Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking is a great read. And an essential one for anybody interested in the way gay men do the things we do.
And/or explore the world of bareback porn first hand, and one-handed, in the Inner Circle.