"Jammer Moments", "Will They?/Won't They?", Gay Men, Gay Sex, Having erotic dreams/fantasies about sailors and whales is perfectly normal...Todd, Homoeroticism, Homosexuality, Humor, Ishmael, Jason Momoa, Literature, Male Sexuality, masculinity, Masculinity Studies, Moby Dick, Moby Dick is TOTALLY GAY, Novel, Quee-Queg, Queer, Queer Sexuality, Queer Theory, Sailors, Satire, Sexual Rhetoric, Sexuality, The Hardcore Gay Erotica that is Moby Dick, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, Well Hung Bad Boys Looking for D, Whalers, Writing
I mean if I woke up to find myself in the arms a large, able-bodied, tattooed god I could only hope that my make-a-wish came true and that I was resting next to Jason Momoa. A man can dream after all.
It’s been a strange sort of year, one that has come with numerous changes and developments, but the most recent one was finishing yet another in a long line of 1000 page books, however my most recent challenge was unique because it was not a novel but in fact it was a history book. Since I was a child my father has owned a dense tome wrapped in a black dust jacket marked with a swastika. I knew a fair amount about Nazis because my father would often tell me stories of men like Patton and Ike Eisenhower who defeated these evil monsters that were almost on par with orcs from The Lord of the Rings. I could never understand then why my dad had a book with their logo on the front. This was largely because I didn’t take the time to read the cover. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer is an incredible book, and while I would hope one day to write about it’s significance to World War II history discourse, I began to observe, somewhere in the three hundred pages of Russian-German diplomacy, that I really, really, desperately wanted to read Moby Dick. Again.
I mentioned this the other day to two of my co-workers and they gave “the look.”
It’s an odd sort of look. I can’t say that it’s pity exactly, nor would I go so far as to suggest that it’s jealousy. In fact it’s something in the middle I suspect. A loathing of the self before one comes to the realization that I’m a narcissist and a weirdo who thinks he’s special and interesting and so they pity my strange variety of nerdom. It’s a look I’m familiar with, and one friend even has a name for these moments that he charmingly refers to as “Jammer Moments.” I’ve yet to contact Oxford English Dictionary because the term has yet to develop a significant etymology and I also don’t have the merchandizing rights yet. “That’s so Jammer” will look great on t-shirts, and I intend to make a killing.
Despite my oddity, and my friends and co-worker’s mystification at my desire to read what is widely regarded as one of the most unreadable novels in all of human history, I’ve enjoyed picking up Moby Dick again. The novel is beautifully written, philosophically profound, textually complex, and also a wonderful opportunity to dig into my queer sexuality and find what is surely one of the most delightfully gay romances in American literature.
Now I can anticipate my reader’s objections before I even get into the fun parts. Fun parts for the record are of course queer jargon for ding dongs and buttholes, both of which terms are straight jargon for penises and anuses, both of which are themselves medical jargon for those things that shoot out babies and turds. Why should I care about whether or not the characters in Moby Dick are gay? I’m never going to read the book in the first place, so why should I bother worrying over the sexuality of two fictional people? More to the point, if Moby Dick is a beautiful and philosophically profound novel, why worry about something as petty as sexuality?
My reader makes some wonderful arguments and I understand where they’re coming from, but to be frank I just feel like having some fun and writing a trashy queer romance and maybe, possibly perhaps, find something culturally relevant to observe at the end. So get off my back people, life is hard and sometimes we all need to find a way to relax.
Now our story begins in the city of Nantucket where the gloomy Ishmael finds himself in a bar, the Spouter Inn to be exact. I’ll touch on that imagery in a moment. Our young stud of a protagonist is a country-boy named Ishmael who is caught by a wanderlust that is at times gloomy, which just gives him this precious “dark side” allowing the reader to picture the man as a kind of Goth dream-boat only without eye-liner and leave tattoos. That’s for later. Ishmael is caught by a near-constant desire to travel specifically to go whaling on the ocean for it provides his spirit an unknown, or indescribable satisfaction. The fact that he surrounded by men is unspoken, but I hope my reader will agree, it’s clearly all about the dick, whale.
I meant whale.
Ishmael steps into the ejaculation, Spouter, I meant Spouter Inn, and he walks past a group of butch sailors to inquire about a room. At this point the reader is given the first bits of foreplay to the beautiful party:
“But avast,” he added, tapping his forehead, “you haint no objections to sharing a harpooner’s blanket, have ye? I s’pose you are a goin’ a whalin’, so you’d better get used to that sort of thing.”
I told him that I never liked to sleep two in a bed; that if I should ever do so, it would depend upon who the harpooner might be, and that if he (the landlord) had no other place for me, and the harpooner was not decidedly objectionable, why rather wander further about a strange town on so bitter a night, I would put up with half of any decent man’s blanket. (19).
I suppose I have to sigh and groan that our protagonist should announce himself upfront to be a bit of a slut. It’s not enough that he let’s the barman tap his “head” in front of him without calling him on it, then you have the fact that admits to preferring multiple lovers and that monogamous relations leave him tired and bored, and before he’s even finished the sentence he has admitted that he’s not overly picky about the sort of man who shares his bed. But perhaps what’s worst, or best of all, I’m not sure which at this point, Ishmael states outright that he’s willing to shack up with any guy if it means being warm and dry. I mean I’m as much of a slut as the next guy, but show at least a little deference in selection of sexual partners Ishmael. There are some Creeps out there, and you always find out far far too late in the game. That orthodox priest was not happy when I said I had an early meeting.
Now my reader is sure to object against my interpretation by suggesting that none of that was actually implied. Ishmael was just a young man looking for a place to stay during a nasty storm. Well my reader has some very intriguing ideas concerning Ishmael’s sex-life, however I’m afraid I must continue to the juicy parts.
The reader is given a lengthy passage in which Ishmael deliberates about whether he should share a bed with the strange man that the bar-tender speaks of. I wish I could say that this was enjoyable to read, but Melville really lacks a certain penasch in terms of getting one hot and bothered for random bed-sharing. Chapter four progresses rather slowly until the reader is able to get a juicy couple of pages of Ishmael discovering his bed-mate will be a cannibal, and there is some rather yummy passages in which Ishmael studies Queequeg’s body, but it really isn’t until the start of chapter 5 that the reader gets any sort of hint that the action is starting up again:
Upon waking up the next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife. (36).
Before the reader interrupts my good time let me observe rather quickly that from this point on Ishmael will regularly use marital adjectives when describing his relationship with Queequeg. It’s not enough that the pair of them wake up in a loving, warm embrace. After all, it was a cold, rainy night and they were strangers seeking solace and warm in one another’s…company. But just a few pages on from this Ishmael drops another hint at his developing infatuation:
But at length all the night’s events soberly recurred, one by one, in fixed reality, and then I lay only alive to the comical predicament. For though I tried to move his arm—unlock his bridegroom clasp—yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain. (38).
Once again Ishmael employs the adjectives of marriage, and this association of course leads to a somewhat annoying realization that Ishmael is one of those queer men who buys into the idea that one of them is “the girl.” This is a rather unfortunate realization, because up to this point I was enjoying Ishmael’s sluttiness and unbroken frolicking with another man. Perhaps what’s so frustrating is this perpetuated rhetoric in today’s society, most obviously in straight communities. Homosexuality is seen often as a kind of malleable heterosexuality in which two men or two women form a monogamous bond that mimics a straight couple’s. One of the pair is the man, and therefore the active penetrator or licker. I should really consult a lesbian and determine what the inside terminology is. While the other partner is the passive receiver, meaning of course that that person is “the girl.” Ishmael seems to be employing this imagery as he observes Queequeg not responding to his attempts to wake him up, and while it’s hardly a severe reiteration of a tired mode of thinking, it’s just disappointing that Ishmael can’t foster his own working model of queerness.
I then rolled over, my neck feeling as if it were in a horse-collar; and suddenly felt a slight scratch. Throwing aside the counterpane, there lay the tomahawk sleeping by the savage’s side, as if it were a hatchet-faced baby. A pretty-pickle, truly, thought I; abed here in a strange house in the broad day, with a cannibal and a tomahawk! (38).
The only thing missing I suppose is some leather chest-guards, chaps, some cigars, and one of those swings you have to pay somebody to set up. Who says Literature is boring?
Now my reader interrupts my fantasies because they are compelled by some misguided sense of revisionist intellectualism to remind me that there was no actual sex. Queequeg simply fell asleep and Melville is trying to establish a purely heterosexual friendship between the two characters. The use of the word “savage” as well is not meant to be dirty, but is in fact some unfortunate racism on Melville’s part to appeal to his original audience. These are all fine points, but they’re ignoring the obvious assplay that was exchanged, and Ishmael being a weird slut who totally wanted it.
This is compounded by a later passage in which Ishmael is just watching Queequeg, and thinking about their association together. And after a few moment’s reflection, which, let’s be honest here, men only ever employ that term to mean “thinking about all the sorts of kinky sex I’d love to have with another man,” Ishmael makes a further move:
I drew my bench near him, and made some friendly signs and hints, doing my best to talk with him meanwhile. At first he little noticed these advances; but presently, upon my referring to his last night’s hospitalities, he made out to ask me whether we were again to be bedfellows. I told him yes; whereat I thought he looked pleased, perhaps a little complimented. (73).
If a man told me he’d like to sleep with me more than once I would probably be flattered as well…alas, I have yet to even receive an offer.
I suppose I must sigh here, and gently wave towards my face as Ishmael only gets more steamy in the sheets with his Cannibal lover (Man eats Man would be either a beautiful title for a homoerotic play by Tennessee Williams or else a wonderful title for a gay porno, I’m not sure which, why not both?). After the previous exchange was offered Ishmael offers another sight just a few pages on where he let’s the obvious foreplay be observed:
But we did not go to sleep without some little chat.
How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair. (75).
Again, before I can even get into the juicy parts about what is obviously sexual, my revisionist reader must needs interrupt to inform me that I’m performing a gross disservice to literary analysis. What is being described is not an openly homosexual relationship. Melville is merely using words like “honeymoon” to show a deepening friendship that is developing between Ishmael and Queequeg. They would also like to remind me that strong homosocial bonds were common between men of this time because it was just not socially acceptable to share emotions between people of different genders. Men and women kept their personal selves to themselves, and preferred to share such intimately with members of their own sex. They would also like to tell me that I’m obviously trying to write contemporary homosexuality onto these characters which is unfair because the homosexuality of today’s society is an entirely different animal than homoeroticism that existed in the past.
Well, if I can offer a defense, I never used the word homosexual. We have no idea if Queequeg is homosexual, or pansexual, or bisexual, or just queer. Now Ishmael is most definitely gay though, because this entire book is just one long testament to his fascination and erotic fixation on “THE D.”
Now if my reader is done interrupting I need to get to the last two passages which obvious end with our queer heroes finally getting, if I can borrow an expression the kids are using these days, “Biz-zay.” Immediately following the previous quote the next chapter begins with Ishmael and Queequeg, resting together and just basking in the afterglow:
We had lain thus in bed, chatting and napping at short intervals, and Queequeg now and then affectionately throwing his brown tattooed legs over mine, and then drawing them back; so entirely sociable and free and easy were we; when, at last, by reason of our confabulations, what little nappishness remained in us altogether departed, and we felt like getting up again, though day-break was yet some way down the future. (76).
While this is nowhere near as pornographic as I would like it to be (Ishmael remains to the very end a nasty little tease) it’s so obvious that these two men have spent the night voraciously making love. Queequeg’s invitations might also suggest that he was the one doing the penetrating, but even my skills of queer deduction only go so far. I mean, the dude is the one leading the advances in this scene, literally “filling” the space of the bed and actively “pushing” into Ishmael’s personal space demonstrating his affection, but then again plenty of men like to be the one leading the advances before lifting their rump in the air like a cat in heat. You never really know somebody until you get them in bed.
What’s obvious, apart from the fact that they both spent the night hiding the “sau-seege” is that these two men have developed a deep and caring intimacy. Ishmael and Queequeg can freely touch and talk and fuck to their hearts content, and thus suggests that the opening passages of Moby Dick are offering a classic narrative of the “Will they?/Won’t They?” Readers and viewers enjoy watching this dynamic because people are sexual creatures who tend to get some kind of voyeuristic thrill of watching another romance develop. And because love is an evolutionary development designed to encourage procreation that results in long terms relationships to ensure two parents can raise a child together, sex is always going to be the end result of a love affair.
People want to see people fall in love to see if maybe they don’t see a little bit of themselves in these characters. We want to observe another person’s love affair to see if it resembles the loves that we’ve pursued in our own lives. And, I secretly suspect, this desire to watch another person’s love affair is a chance to explore a sexual dynamic that we did not.
I myself never got a chance to form a love affair with another man, and to be honest I’m not sure if I ever would. I tend to gravitate more towards women when it comes to my emotional self. I like their company, but I can’t deny that my queerness does push me towards a sexual dynamic with men. I guess then I should give my reader one last chance to argue with my interpretation of these early passages of Moby Dick.
It’s ridiculous. This whole essay has been one long, almost mastubatory re-writing of an American classic for the purpose of justifying or exploiting the writer’s personal sexual curiosities and hang-ups. Ishmael and Queequeg do form a strong, homo-social bond together, and while there is some physicality in it, there’s no way that these two men could have possibly been considered lovers. Its irresponsible and indulgent.
And I suppose my reader does have a point. Queer as a word has changed from what it was. That’s the nature of language. It’s a fluid and constantly altering technology that allows human beings to turn thoughts into physical, tangible reality. Queequeg and Ishmael express a companionship that is intensely homoerotic that manifests in physical and emotional closeness, and Melville writes it out as a kind of marriage between these two men, using the language of domestic partnership to allow the reader to see how much Queequeg becomes the most important person in Ishmael’s life. The language of Melville shows that men in the past formed strong homosocial bonds between other men and found some kind of emotional solace in it. So strong were these bonds that often times men found, in other men, more emotional and physical comfort in the arms and bodies and company of other men than they might have had with women. And some men, in these relationships, might have found something akin to a romantic partner who gave them a stability and foundation of love that they could then build a life on that might, as time went on, save them from any and all kind of emotional problems.
I suppose my reader is right about Moby Dick in the end. Men might have loved and fucked one another in the past, but the only thing that’s really changed is the language.
All quotes from Moby Dick were taken from the 2000 paperback Modern Library Classics edition.
As per usual, I really like helping my reader dig into the great works I write about, and so while I was writing this essay I found a few essays about Moby Dick in case the reader would like to dig a little deeper into the text. Enjoy:
On an entirely separate note…seriously, Jason Momoa isn’t the sexiest man of the year? Seriously? Do I really need to…okay. Apparently I do.