It was yesterday’s discussion of gender-neutral screen names that set me to thinking about sex sliding softly, licking its tongue into the corners* of the chat on The Guardian’s books blog – a site that, like the rest of the blogging universe, ought to be keeping sexologists on the tips of their toes. I can’t say I’d be astonished to learn of some ageing, louche, Silicon Valley xillionaire endowing a chair in Incorporeal Sex and Gender Studies, some day soon, at one of those plump and overfed American Ivy League establishments.
Why, I’ve been wondering, is choosing gender-neutrality interpreted — by some of the most intelligent and sophisticated bloggers I know from GU — as turning oneself into a neutered cat?
I’m not sure whether the obvious conclusion is that sexuality really is inescapable — or whether Guardian readers, being British, are only reflecting the national libido’s responsibility for the alarming switch from No Sex Please,We’re British, four decades ago, to Britain’s new status as the West’s most promiscuous country, with a ‘a highly sexualised popular culture’. That was in a report I spotted in yesterday’s online Times.
No one should be too surprised by this, I suppose. Consider that such unlikely contenders from the literary world as John Betjeman and Iris Murdoch have in living memory been our answers to Casanova, and much admired for it.
For relief from a claustrophobic grey sky, where I am – and not just the nobler aim of advancing science — I thought I’d make a tentative list of grist for Kinseys of the blog world that has registered in my peripheral vision.
In addition to the usual suspects – spouse-hunting, single, twenty- and thirty-somethings; married or all-but-officially partnered people looking for amusing diversions; and a bisexual blogger or two trawling with an extra-wide net — here, at random, are some others in my catalogue of specimens:
• Uxorious husbands stitching lavish proclamations of devotion to their wives into comments, without ever mentioning profiles put up — recently — on other parts of the net, advertising frequent trips from home, making gaps for extra-marital adventures.
• A charming but harried domestic partner, mother and chief breadwinner saddled with an ever-aspiring novelist for a mate, writing desperate posts about his fecklessness – which work a young male blogger into a frenzy of yearning . . . only, it turns out that this woman is a shameless invention, one of a dozen screen names of the books blog’s greatest imp. (Think of Leonardo’s most famous portrait for a clue.)
• Apparently long-married middle-aged male bloggers who are also, inexplicably, raving misogynists (judging by the elaborate expressions of disgust with women that repeatedly escape into their prose and poetry) . . . who openly flirt with younger males. They put female bloggers in their place rather sharply but almost never take men bloggers to task for being dim, prolix or pretentious.
• Obviously very pretty or otherwise attractive young women so overwhelmed by attention in real life that they see nothing wrong with the commenting equivalent of just an eyelash-flutter or simper – ‘I like,’ and ‘I remember when,’ being the gist of most of their contributions.
• Women who once belonged to the last category going out of their way to advertise that fact – mainly through anecdotes ingeniously worked into literary criticism, but in some cases, by links to web pages decorated with flattering photographs.
• Young gay men half-in and half-out of the closet (I’m not sure why, in these liberated times — or why they don’t seem to have female counterparts on the site.) Most of their sexual signalling seems to be done through demonstrations of complete indifference to, or dislike of bloggers identified as, or suspected of being, female – even though some of them have warm platonic friendships, off-blog, with members of the opposite sex.
Not for the world would I wish to halt or inhibit any of these performances. But I think that they just might make it possible to see why an onlooker dithering about registering to blog for the first time could choose a gender-free pseudonym. For one thing, that makes it possible to be all things to all bloggers – flirt with a complete lack of discrimination — and vice-versa.
. . . But who has been missed in my catalogue-in-progress?
[* with apologies to T.S. Eliot and Alfred J.Prufrock]