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STRUGGLE SESSION: Breaking the Code, Erasing the Bi, Smooshing the Kens… and More!

On Thursdays I respond to comments from readers and listeners. These posts are for Magnum Subs exclusively. So, if you’re already one of my subs, thank you and read on! If you’d like to become my sub, do it now! Magnum Subs get the Magnum Lovecast (more guests! more calls! no ads!), the Maxi Savage Love (more Q! more A!), the Sex & Politics podcast, invites to Savage Love Live, Struggle Session, and bragging rights: you’re one of my subs!

First up, I asked my adult kinky readers if they had any words of wisdom for MUM — a reader whose 13-year-old son was sending gift cards to a shady “Mistress” he met online — and CMD, Jonathan, LuckyDipper, xarxar, and SomeCallMe came through with excellent advice. MUM emailed to let me know she appreciated everyone’s advice and would do her best to keep her kid safe without making him feel...

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...a>, Jonathan, LuckyDipper, xarxar, and SomeCallMe came through with excellent advice. MUM emailed to let me know she appreciated everyone’s advice and would do her best to keep her kid safe without making him feel isolated or ashamed. And speaking of moms, Dutch Lady, Krinreads, and Zoftig had some great advice for the new the new moms who were disappointed by Mother’s Day. AsherCoady detected signs of creeping conservatism in two of my recent Lovecast intros… Between your queer conservative take last week coming down on Bambie Thug for trying to take ownership of the term queer for a new generation and the bi erasure intro this week… it’s not giving GOP, but it is giving a bit of “get off my lawn” energy. Is Dan becoming more Republican? I don’t think so. But more conservative? I think a case can be made… Seeing as Asher was coming to my defense after another listener accused me of becoming a Republican (ridiculous!), I wanna thank Asher for defending my honor. People have been accusing me of being a closeted conservative for decades; the fact that I’ve long urged people to stay in unfulfilling-but-low-conflict marriages/relationships for the sake of the kids was the first thing held up as proof that I was a closeted conservative. It didn’t matter how many Democrats I endorsed, it didn’t matter how many dicks I sucked, it didn’t matter how many arguments I made in favor of socialized medicine or decriminalized sex work, the fact that I’d urged people with kids to suck it up and put their kids first proved I wasn’t the liberal I pretended to be every time I stepped into a voting booth or got down on my knees. Anyway, I don’t think I’m a conservative. As for Bambi Thug… FFS, I didn’t come down on them for identifying as queer. From the intro: “Non-binary people are queer — including AFAB enbies with AMAB enby partners — queers like Bambi Thug. They may be in an opposite sex relationship, but they are queer, and their relationship is queer.” I don’t know how that could possibly be interpreted as anything other than an endorsement of Bambi Thug’s queerness. Now, I don’t think anyone owns the term “queer,” which means I don’t think anyone gets to decide who does and doesn’t get to identify as queer. The only thing I took issue with was Bambi Thug’s suggestion that queer people — who’ve been a part of Eurovision from the start — somehow didn’t arrive at Eurovision until this year. From my intro… I’m sincerely happy to see non-binary queer people having their moment at Eurovision. I actually loved NEMO’s song — I only voted against them because Switzerland is the single most fucking expensive country in Europe to visit — but I do wanna say… for the record… that gay men and lesbians and bisexuals and trans people… the OG queers… not only were we already at Eurovision… we opened the doors to the stages where NEMO and Bambi Thug killed it this weekend. If I came down on anyone in that intro, it was the gay men of my generation who complain that the label “queer” was somehow slapped on us by a bunch of blue-haired Tumblr enbys in 2012. (Check out this video essay by David Sedaris.) As I reminded everyone in that intro, it was gay men and lesbians who launched “queer” as a unifying label in “Queers Read This!“, a pamphlet distributed at the NYC pride parade in 1990. (You can read the full text of “Queers Read This” here). Back to AsherCoady… I think that your read of “these three nice straight kids” [in Challengers] is a bit off. It seems to me that Josh O’Connor’s character is pretty obviously coded as bisexual, as is the “gaze” of the camera throughout this movie. To me it’s not a film about three nice straight kids who can’t figure out a throuple, but about a nice bisexual boy who is caught up in a complex relationship where he is attracted to his best friend and his best friend’s wife. That’s quite a bit more interesting IMO, but you know go ahead with the bisexual erasure. Gotta say that Patrick didn’t seem bi coded to me. Not only can the case be made that Patrick isn’t bisexual or even coded as bisexual — he would’ve had a much easier time finding a place to crash for the night if he’d gone on Grindr — but leaning in to read Patrick as bisexual erases all of those straight guys out there who are secure enough in their own sexualities that they’re not threatened by a little incidental M/M contact during a threesome. Heteroflexible men exist, Asher, and they deserve representation too. And in that same intro where you detected bi erasure, Asher, I criticized the anonymous gay and lesbian authors of “Queers Read This!” for leaving bisexual and trans people out of their definition of “queer.” Says Caroline on Instagram about that same opening rant… Are we assuming that any/all girls want to see two guys making out, and that it would automatically turn them on? Because I would happily leave them to it, but it wouldn’t do anything for me. I’m not making assumptions about any/all girls here, I’m making an observation about the character of Tashi, as played by Zendaya, in particular, who was quite obviously turned on by the sight of Patrick and Art making out. Steve says Tashi isn’t alone… The majority of my female friends love seeing guys kiss. It’s a thing. As I said on the show last week, lots of girls are watching Young Royals and Heartstopper. Staying on Challengers, Gav says… I feel like this take that the movie is about a “threesome/throuple that never was” is kinda reductive and nowhere near as interesting as the idea that it’s about ONE formidable, neutered ego — that of Zendaya’s character — and her need to smoosh her Ken dolls together to achieve a buzz. There’s more than one way to smoosh your Ken dolls together. And full disclosure: my take — why did they have to be bitter rivals? why couldn’t they be a nice, normal throuple instead? — wasn’t meant to be taken literally or seriously. I mean, if these three fictional characters had settled into a hot, healthy, and functional throuple, that would’ve been lovely for these fictional characters, sure, but it would’ve made for a very boring film, as it would’ve defused the psychosexual conflict that drove the plot. No conflict, no stakes, no movie. But it seems to me that someone could’ve brought up the option of Tashi not having to choose between Patrick and Art — the option of Tashi having both boys — without defusing the conflict that drives the plot of Challengers. Someone brings it up, someone knocks it down. I mean, the action takes place between 2006 and 2019 and Tashi getting to have both these boys doesn’t occur to anyone? (Seems like something an actually bisexual Patrick might’ve brought up, doesn’t it?) The fact that being a throuple doesn’t occur to any of these characters — 2/3s of whom are young people in a college in the mid-2010s — is itself evidence that none of these characters are queer, coded or otherwise. Says a listener via email… I have been a fan of yours since the 90s when I read your column in the Georgia Straight in Vancouver. Over the years I listened to your podcast while I was in long and unhappy monogamous relationships. I always liked your podcast, but I did feel like you had a bit of a blind spot when it came to women. I have to admit that your ideology of non-monogamy made a lot of sense and after 13.5 years of monogamous LTRs, I was keen to try casual relationships. The problem for me was that as soon as I developed feelings someone, it felt like my insides were being ripped out when I imagined them with someone else. Part of the adjacent factor in this was the straight men I was dating were totally inconsistent and although they said they were poly and casual, they were clearly using those terms as a way to circumvent commitment. I realized after some extremely painful heartbreak that I was not polyamorous. I know it’s a controversial topic, but I do sometimes suspect that because women are impregnated and carry children that there is something primal in the way we attach to a sexual partner. We need a protector, not just someone who impregnates and abandons us. Men in turn may be built to ejaculate everywhere and move on to the next. Anyway, fast forward five years and I’ve been mostly celibate because I’m finding it difficult to find anyone I’m attracted to that doesn’t shut down emotionally as soon as we start getting close. I realize it might be a pattern of who I’m attracting/attracted too also been in therapy for ten plus years to work that out, but it seems like I know a lot of amazing women with similar stories. However, back to the original topic: my criticism of your poly ideology. You speak about as if all the people doing it are self-aware and responsible. This is far from the reality of what we are experiencing today. And aside from some outliers, I don’t know many women who aren’t destroyed emotionally by it. I do appreciate that you have mentioned that it’s not for everyone, but your increasing focus on it is more and more suggesting that it should be. Ethically non-monogamous relationships — monogamish relationships, DADT relationships, open relationships, polyamorous relationships — aren’t for everyone. They didn’t work out for you… but the same could be said of your monogamous relationships, right? I’m not trying to salt your wounds and I take your criticism — I certainly have my blind spots — but the framing of your letter is a good example of the unconscious/default-setting bias many people have when it comes to monogamy: We don’t blame monogamy when a closed relationship fails — it’s always the individuals who were at fault — but we blame non-monogamy when an open relationship fails. (Reminder: not every relationship that ended failed, not every relationship that fails ends.) There are certainly times when the structure of a relationship contributes to its failure; two people attempting ENM when it’s not right for them as individuals — or one half of a couple imposing it the other half — has doomed relationships, but some relationships have failed because letting go of monogamy was harder to conceive of than divorce. There is no doubt something to your theory… but if women experience jealousy because they need someone to protect them when they’re pregnant, then men — at least the ones who can’t get pregnant (not gonna get accused of erasing trans men today!) wouldn’t experience jealousy. Of course men could experience jealousy for different reasons — paternal insecurity? — but the existence of happily poly women (and they exist) argues against something hardwired and essential. Monogamy is right for many people, of course, perhaps even the majority of people, for all sorts of different reasons. (Feeling like your insides are being ripped out when you imagine your partner with someone else is a one reason monogamy might be right for you.) And while I don’t believe we’re a sexually monogamous species, I do believe we are — for the most part — a pair-bonding species. But you’re absolutely right when you say there’s a dearth of good men out there — men who want and are worthy of commitment — as some have argued recently… and others have not-so-recently argued. Says Smithy via email… In response to OLD this week (5/21/24), he should check out the work of Artemisia DeVine. Her focus is on sexual fantasies, the desires we code into them, and how to design sex play that can deliver the satisfaction of the fantasy without needing to act it out in reality. It’s genius. I LOVE your work, read you every week, and consider you a Global Treasure of Humanity. Thanks for the lovely compliment, Smithy! Artemisia’s website is very interesting — her ideas are very interesting — and we’re going to invite her to come on the Lovecast! Says Coolie… Not sure a hall pass is the easiest path for OLD. I think I heard Dan say one time in the past that the fantasy of sleeping with a woman of a certain age is one that gets fulfilled by the passing of time. I know the total fantasy here is the age gap, but that can also be something role played while OLD actually fucks a woman in her 60s: his WIFE. Just give it a few years. Says BiDanFan… I don’t think the wife has to be “one of those insecure, irrational people… who expects all of her partner’s sexual thoughts and fantasies to revolve around her” to not jump at the chance to issue a hall pass. I think she just has to be one of those monogamous people. I think OLD might be better off framing this as a request to role play this fantasy…. But OLD didn’t even ask, “How can I realize this fantasy?”, he asked, “How can I grieve this and move on?” And that’s a skill that will be far more useful to him as the years advance and he has to let go of fantasies such as being a rock star, climbing Mount Everest, winning a marathon… all things young people can do but middle-aged people, not so much. Willie Nelson was 40 when he had his first hit album, Meb Keflezighi was 39 when he won the Boston Marathon, Yūichirō Miura was 80 the last time he climbed (and skied down!) Mount Everest… still, point taken: OLD didn’t ask for advice on making this fantasy happen, he asked for advice on letting it go. But I want people to be happy, I guess, which is why I couldn’t resist gaming out how OLD might be able to make this happen for himself — and role play with the wife, which it didn’t even occur to me to suggest (talk about blind spots!) is a good way to make it happen, OLD, no hall pass required! Says Alejandro (via email) about my conversation about sexual choking with Peggy Orenstein… I find it odd that choking is so dangerous to one’s health, given that Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners choke each other all the time. Assuming of course one lets go immediately after putting the other person to sleep (which I’ve been told is after about 10 seconds, and that it takes maybe 30 seconds to a minute to start becoming actually dangerous). In any case, people have been choking each other in martial arts long before it became a popular kink. Perhaps we’ve all suffered permanent damage? This essay — “Are BJJ Chokes Dangerous?” — by BJJ instructor William Tackett is very informative and doesn’t describe choking as harmless or risk-free. And Charles via email about a point I raised with Peggy… About choking: 1.) Choking becoming the new 3rd base for high school students is an important topic.  Totally separate from safety. 2.) You’re absolutely right, Dan: If choking were THAT dangerous, we would have bodies. Lots of them. And for every person killed by lack of oxygen you have many many who are permanently injured — like need-a-feeding-tube injured, not some radiologist squinting at a CT scan and saying it looks different. In this case, absence of proof is good proof of absence. Choking, as widely and ineptly practiced by teenagers across America, is not killing people. “I had sex but didn’t die” may be the lowest of bars. ‘ Okay, that’s it for this week’s Struggle Session… which is clocking in at almost 2800 words. ‘ And for our Muppet-Faced Man of the Week we have a a three-way tie! (Four way, if you toss in John Mulaney.) And to those of you who’ve had the nerve — the absolute gall — to tell me Mike Faist isn’t hot, you haven’t seen him in West Side Story…

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