Are you a homosocial?
What do you call a man who likes women in bed, but not in the bar?
There is a scene in the 1994 movie Philadelphia where the talented young lawyer played by Tom Hanks sits in a sauna with partners of his law firm. He is gay and has just discovered he has AIDS. His lawyer partners do not yet know this: when they find out, they try to fire him; he takes them to court, wins, and then dies.
Baking together in the sauna, the senior law partner says, ‘How d’ya know when a faggot is faking orgasm?’. The answer, received with raucous laughter: ‘When he throws a quart of cream on to your back!’ Only Hanks winces.
When this movie came out in 1994, this scene made vivid for me a paradox: that of homophobic male-bonding heterosexuals. And then I thought about Samuel Butler’s dystopian novel, called Erewhon – nowhere backwards – in which illness was a criminal offence, and the polite reply to an enquiry on your health was to say something like, ‘fine but I could not resist stealing a pocket handkerchief in the market today’. I wrote a little piece on this paradox which I emailed to a friend:
I have invented three new words: Homosocial, heterosocial and bisocial.
Men who are not friends with women /
But just like fucking them/ Are homosocial heterosexuals. /
Some of these are latent homosocials /
Or even closet homosocials /
Some are as homosocial as a nine-bob note /
Most are proudly practising homosocials /
Members of a ‘club’, such as the Athenaeum /
And of course Freemasons and Australians /
Are raging homosocials.
In Samuel Butler’s Erehwon members of parliament /
Are now voting to reduce the consenting age /
Of homosocials to sweet 16.
I like to think of myself as a bisocial heterosexual /
But my main heterosocial partner /
Thinks I am a heterosocial heterosexual /
And, as such, I can also be homosocial with homosexuals.
Actually, many homosocial heterosexual men /
Confuse my heterosociality for homosexuality /
Which are you, what is your social orientation?
Most adolescents are antisocial autosexuals /
Hermits are asocial, and also probably autosexuals /
Gulliver’s Houyhnhnms are asexual bisocials /
As Catholic priests claim to be.
Monks from silent orders are asocial asexuals /
‘The moral majority’ are certainly anti-sexual /
And probably homosocials. /
Prisoners in solitary confinement /
Are autosocial autosexuals.
A friend of mine is a heterosocial homosexual /
They are the flipside of homosocial heterosexuals /
Both like to fuck one sex, and talk to the other.
Of course heterosocial heterosexual men /
Can homosocially ‘male-bond’ /
Over their heterosocial heterosexuality /
But their heterosocial interactions are usually tinged/ With a frisson of sexuality.
So often, being heterosexual /
Conflicts with being heterosocial /
Or at other times /
Or with different women /
Yours heterosocially, Ted.
How wonderful to hear from you! Your poem is brilliant, I love it!
Being a bisocial heterosexual/ With latent heterosocial proclivities/ It’s easy for me to say that to you/ I too have one very dear heterosocial partner/ Who thinks that I am completely heterosocial/ But he’s wrong.
It’s just that in science, we tend to like scientists/ Who keep tending to be male/ So we ‘ladies’ look heterosocial/ Just for enjoying our work./ This friend would probably argue that my social orientation/ Has something to do with my being a scientist.
I have known homosocial homosexuals (only female); and heterosocial homosexuals (only male). Does that mean that homosexuality predisposes one to preferring women friends? If you could get the gene for that (preference for female friends), it might be linked with the homosexuality gene.
I can think of an awful lot of people who could benefit from gene therapy with it. I better get back to the lab to keep working on recombination. Making such gene therapy possible, in my lifetime, gives a new urgency to my work.
I also emailed the poem to a Spanish woman I know. Her reply was much more sexual in interpretation and not quite what I had intended to convey:
Thank you for your poem; I think it is great! But it was more a riddle than a poem to me, because I had to read it several times to understand it.
I also like to think of myself as a bisocial heterosexual. I have got both heterosexual and homosexual friends.
And they are both women and men. Does it mean I can also be plurisocial?
Sometimes I think I am heterosexual with a sprinkle of homosexuality/ Or is it that we are not either one thing or the other/ But just what we are supposed to be at each circumstance?
I do not know.
However, one thing I am sure of and it is/ That the essence of sex has no shape, colour, odour or…sex!/ If sex could be distilled/ It would probably be a colourless vapour/ Which can change its physical state depending on many factors.
When it condenses at a certain temperature and on a certain surface/ It becomes the usual sex raindrops most people are used to/ But there are others who have never experienced snow or hail. And, still, they are all made from the same molecules/ There is no essential difference between them.
Women made more insightful and interesting comments than the men I sent it to. The men manipulated the words, as if they were equations – like physicists use maths to get more insight into physics, just by manipulating equations. For example, one came up with trans-socials. It was witty, but he did not expand upon it and I did not know what to do with it. Then I realised that I guess many women in science, business and politics are forced to be trans-socials.
But now I am happily married to a powerful matriarch and all the potency of my other heterosocial relationships has evaporated. Could that ‘sexual frisson’ have been stronger than I realised? Was I really just a wolf in sheep’s clothing – befriending just to seduce?
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