Note on Sunday, April 29:
If you are going to read this article, please read the entire comment thread, as well. People have brought up some important points that give essential political context to any discussion of Black masculinity and sexuality. Rich and clarifying offline conversations have also happened. As Black women, the author and I welcome contributions and criticisms in the spirit of liberating our people, all beings, and the earth. Peace!
[You may have noticed that, despite having studied sexuality in college, I don’t write about sex on this blog anymore. That’s because of some family stuff. But since sex positivity remains important to me, I wanted feature this really interesting guest blog from my friend, comrade, and fellow engaged Buddhist Skyla. Thanks Skyla!
If reading sexually graphic material on my blog will make you uncomfortable, please skip this one. Thanks!
May I call you David? Thanks. I thought you’d feel that way. You seem eager to develop the intimacy between us. At least, that’s what I gleaned from what you said in your interview on MadameNoir.com, which was supposed to be about rapping with respect for women. Since the video title declares, “David Banner Speaks Exclusively To Women,” and I count myself in this category, and since you look at me through the camera and say things like, “I’m here to love you … touch you … hold you …”, I’m gonna go ahead and take your word for it that you are trying to make some sort of connection with me. Which, great! You seem smart and goofy, which I like, and in an interview about Trayvon Martin you talk about class war in a way that made me cheer out loud.
So David, since we’re fostering this connection, I want to offer some feedback about your analysis of your own song, “Play” — a song you refer to in the MadameNoire interview as “actual commentary” on your sex life, as well as “one of the dirtiest songs in the world.” And you’re right — this song is hella explicit!
(Static uncensored video and lyrics after the jump: NSFW)
Now, in your interview you lament the fact that most people missed the point of this song. They got too distracted by all the sexed-up language and missed your message: a message of respect for women. In your words:
Most men when they make songs it’s like “Girl come get in the car [etc etc I’ll fuck this, fuck that, throw you out the car, etc etc].” I said, I want to make a song where a man is telling a woman what he wants to do to make her happy. … But, you know, it’s about respect. And it’s about making a woman feel comfortable with herself and with her sexuality and with her body. And if you can do that without making her feel violated, she’ll do whatever she can — and that’s what “Play” was. And people missed that!
So David, I mean, on one level, as a straight-identifying woman, I feel you. When we take a step away from the bestselling, mainstream narrative of men getting off on harming, humiliating, and not giving a fuck about women, that’s a good step to take. Further, you seem to be actively interested in women experiencing consensual sexual pleasure, which seems like a lovely, sex-positive interest to have.
But where does that leave us? Honestly, to me it comes off as just another feminist holla, or a way of indirectly bragging on your own masculinized prowess by being like, “yeah, do this, do that, i’m awesome because i enjoy making you / watching you cum.” I mean, like I say, that’s maybe better than “I’m awesome because I’ll beat the pussy up in a way that gives me pleasure and status regardless of how it makes you feel.” At the same time, it’s neither easy nor simple to escape the ‘male gaze’: in other words, the ways in which women’s pleasure primarily gains value and meaning insofar as it is seen through the eyes of men, and helps get men off. Like spectacle lesbianism. Know what I mean?
Maybe what would’ve changed that for me is if the song had contained more of a tone of wonder, unknowing, appreciation and active learning about sexuality and what makes people cum. (Or, more broadly, what makes people feel happy and fulfilled sexually.) Personally, I get turned on more by a relationship and communication of caring / responsiveness. The vibe I get from “Play” is more like, “I already know what’s going to make you feel good, so I don’t even need to bother learning your particular body.”
This comes across in the visual language of the commercial music video, too, where all the exercising/stereotypically hot women are presented as interchangeable. We don’t need to know why you find them hot; the ‘objective’ fact of their hotness makes them special as a category but interchangeable as individuals. (I won’t even go into the ways that the whole workout / personal trainer theme totally undermines your point about making women feel more comfortable with their bodies … I’ll just give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you fought against your manager or whoever it was who insisted on that video concept.)
Adding to the sense of all-the-sameness, there’s also the standard line, “bring your friends over,” which, as usual in pop, omits any artistic details (emotional, aesthetic, or otherwise) of how that orgy might actually feel in real life. It’s just supposed to be what heteros do to get freaky. (Never hear these male pop/rap stars asking if they can bring their homeboys over to join them and the girl tho …)
To me real eroticism is about the details, the particulars — colors, textures, shapes, sounds, sensations. Being present and open enough to be surprised. And maybe “surprise” partly means what Audre Lorde defines as eroticism: powerful nonrationality. A nonrationality which, like women’s cumming, achieves much of its social value through the ways that it benefits men.
As women, we have come to distrust that power which rises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge. We have been warned against it all our lives by the male world, which values this depth of feeling enough to keep women around in order to exercise it in the service of men, but which fears this same depth too much to examine the possibilities of it within themselves. So women are maintained at a distant/inferior position to be psychically milked, much the same way ants maintain colonies of aphids to provide a life-giving substance for their masters.
In addition to exploiting/constraining feminine sexuality, I also think this know-it-all, feminist-holla swagger impoverishes masculine sexuality. Ultimately it becomes about marketing a repertoire of sexual skills, with no need to demonstrate responsiveness, mindfulness, and openness to the many permutations of sexuality that might actually exist! Like, sure i might care if you can fuck me hard or get me wet or eat me out in some artisinal way, but i’m more concerned about how you’ll respond if i feel like i want to ask permission to cum for the first time with you. Or to lie on my stomach in a weird and possibly unflattering position. will that freak you out? turn you off? will you respond supportively? can you ask questions and aim to learn?
that relational component of sexuality also feels, to me, somehow related to subverting the masculine/feminine, male/female binary. trans and intersex embodiment, as well as genderqueerness, can help us learn how to value and prioritize the asking of questions, honoring and enjoying people’s self-determinations and peculiarities, and not assuming that we know all about someone’s body going into sex.
Which, to me, is not about having lifestyle-activism sex. But about having hotter, more creative, fun and mindful sex — unlike the boring, cookie-cutter, fake-sweaty T&A that your music video producers are giving me.
Suzuki Roshi puts it well in his classic, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
Give me some more possibilities, please, David. That is, unless I’m someone who gets turned on when you dictate to me what I do or don’t enjoy.
But how will you find that out about me if you already think you know?