“The Platonic Blow” – A 20th Century Response to Whitman

W.H Auden was one the the greatest and most intelligent writers of the 20th century and one of my favorite poets of all time. Much of Auden’s work is influenced by politics, religion, philosophy, and love. Auden was gay and fairly open about that fact. He often traveled to Berlin before WWII broke out to enjoy the gay scene in the city and to visit his close friend Christopher Isherwood. Isherwood, whom we briefly discussed in class, traveled with Auden to China, Spain, and eventually to America. They collaborated together on books about the Sino-Japanese War and the civil war in Spain.

I will leave it to you to read Auden’s more famous poems (which is something you really should do) and instead focus on a particular poem that is not as well known. Auden wrote this particular poem to his lover Chester Kallman to be playful and never meant it to be published. It is titled “A Platonic Blow” and you can read it here. It’s worth the read.

Not only is the poem about a guy cruising a man, bringing him back to his apartment, blowing him and rimming him, but it is a finely structured poem on top of that. Auden uses internal rhyme, an end rhyme scheme of ABAB, and each line is metered so that there are five stressed syllables. “A Platonic Blow” is unique in Auden’s work because of the explicit and raw eroticism of it.

Auden and Chester Kallman

I chose to look at Auden and this particular poem in contrast to Walt Whitman. We spent a significant amount of time in class talking about Whitman and his poetry. Whitman is in ways regarded as one of the father’s of queer culture and literature, despite the fact words like queer or gay were not labels he applied to himself. It was the 19th century and these terms were not in play yet; however, Whitman still laid the groundwork for the queer literature to come. As you know from Whitman’s poems we read in class, much of his work was centered around the intersection and combination of the American nation and sex.

Auden and Isherwood

Auden, too, wrote about the nation and sex, but he chose to keep the two separate. His poem “Spain” is one of his greatest works and deals with the idea of the nation. He wrote it while in Spain with Isherwood, and it describes the country in its past, its present, and in its future. Much like Whitman, he had an idea of what he thought the nation should be, although they were writing about different nations. Whereas Whitman saw love and sexual relations between men as a reconstruction of the nation’s relations, Auden never mentions the two in conjunction. He, who was out in a way Whitman couldn’t be, chose to keep his ideas of the nation separate from his ideas of same-sex relations.

It may have been because Auden lived in a strange period where same-sex relations were not so taboo that he did not feel the connection between the homoerotic and politics that Whitman felt. The Weimar Republic was fading and war was approaching, but there seemed to be this bubble in time that allowed for queer culture to flourish for a few years. “The Platonic Blow” highlights the sexual climate of the time, which was becoming much more open than the the one Whitman knew. The poem is blunt, crass and beautifully written, and it seems to say that sex does not need the nation. It can exist outside the confines of politics and borders. Whitman saw sex and the nation as being intertwined, but Auden saw them as separate entities. “The Platonic Blow” is one step further into the explicit erotic that Whitman couldn’t take, and it show so clearly how Auden chose to keep his sexual feelings separate from his published work.

Here are some great Auden links:

Biography

Auden Reading His Own Poems

My Favorite Auden Poem

 

Shibari and Kinbaku

Rope has long served as a staple in the bondage aspect of BDSM in Western culture. Yet, much of what is practiced today in regards to rope bondage has evolved from Eastern culture, specifically Japan. In the 1400s rope became a tool used by Japanese warriors to secure their captured enemies on battlefields, and by the 1600s it became common in law enforcement. The forms that the warriors and law enforcement used became known as Hojojutsu, which was characterized by quick knots made from natural fiber rope. It was recognized as a martial art (think jujitsu or karate).

Hojojutsu

Over the years Hojojutsu faded from practice and is not widely practiced today. However, it serves as the main influence for modern rope bondage that is practiced both in the East and the West. The two main modern forms are called Shibari and Kinbaku.

The word shibari in Japanese means “decorative tying” and was not used in the context of bondage, but rather for things like wrapping ribbon on presents. Western culture took the word and applied it to bondage, giving it its meaning today. Kinbaku is a Japanese verb meaning “bind tightly” and the meaning has stayed relatively the same in Western usage. There is no exact date when the West started to adopt these practices from Japan, but for hundreds of years they have been slowly assimilating into the Western BDSM culture.

Kinbaku in practice. I waded through a lot of stuff to find these pictures so I hope you appreciate them…

There is some debate over the differences between the two forms because each person who practices does so in a slightly different way. Both forms are considered erotic, but they achieve this in slightly different ways. The most recognized difference is that Shibari gains its erotic nature through the actual beauty of the rope and the study behind it. It is much more about the aesthetic of the rope than the functionality of the bindings. The rope can be synthetic and colored though normal it is uncolored and natural. It is slightly thinner than the rope used in Kinbaku.

Kinbaku gains its erotica more through the functionality of the intricate knots than their appearance. It uses thicker rope, and it uses jute rope, which is a natural fibre. Kinbaku is much more about restraint than appearance and is considered to be more erotic and sexual than Shibari.

Shibari. Notice the lack of any actual restraints.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fusion bondage is the modern Western product that incorporates the Japanese forms of Shibari and Kinbaku. It is one of the most varied forms but also the most common in the West. It borrows aspects of the original two forms, but adds aspects like colored and synthetic rope. Fusion bondage does not have the confines that the traditional forms have and is considered to be more a free form of bondage.

Both Kinbaku and Shibari can be practiced by men or women on men or women. The person who has studied the form and ties the knots is known as a rigger. There are several well-known riggers in both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. One that particularly caught my eye name is Lee Harrington, who is trans sexuality and spiritual educator. He explains that Shibari for him is all about the study and knowledge that goes into the ropework. He derives his pleasure from the ropes aesthetic instead of the body of the person he is using the rope on.

Kinbaku

We have spent a lot of time in class trying to define what sex is and where fetishes fit into that definition, which is what lead me to researching this topic. I find it interesting that both forms are considered erotic and can give the participants sexual pleasure, without anything we would consider traditional sex being involved (no genitalia). From what I understand, a rigger and their participant do not have to have any sexual attraction to one another in order to derive pleasure from the act, although I would image that sexual attraction to one another would enhance these feeling. It is more the rope and the knots that give the pleasure and sexual satisfaction to those involved, which further muddies the waters of a clear sex definition.

For some, their ropework defines who they are and lets them break free from the constraints put on them by sexual identities. For instance, a straight male rigger who derives his pleasure from the actual ropework would have no problem tying up a man. We talked in class how some people’s sexual identity is not the main priority when fetishes are involved. A person might identify as a rigger instead of a lesbian for example.

If you are interested in the actual knots involved and how to tie them, here is a link.

 

 

Miss Coco Peru- Comedian, Actress, World Savior

“We gender benders understand that if you have the balls to change yourself, you have the power to change the world.”

On any given Friday night, you are likely to find one Miss Coco Peru giving a stand up routine to some crowded theater, maybe throwing in a signature song or two to get her audience laughing. For over 20 years, Clinton Leupp has been putting on his infamous wig and becoming Miss Coco Peru.

During the week, you are more likely to find Coco volunteering at one of LA’s many LGBTQ help centers. Often still donning her red hair, she dedicates her days to making the world a better place. Although for many drag is only an avenue for entertainment, Coco has embraced the role of drag queen in a larger way. 

During her speech at the 38th Gala Event for the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Coco shared why she got started in drag.

“Drag for me was born out of a calling to be an activist. I was living at home in the Bronx, and although I was fortunate to be out, it was the late 80s and it was a scary time for a young gay man in New York City. It was a time when walking down the street you could see the effect of AIDS on people walking towards you. People you knew were suddenly unrecognizable, and it scared the hell out of me. It also made me feel like I had to do something.”

Miss Coco was inspired to become and activist and help her community. However, she knew that in order to make an impact, she had to be visible. She empathizes storytelling as one of the best ways to educate people on issues that are unknown or controversial. The personal impact of someone’s own story is more likely to resonate with people. Coco employs gender bending as a way to help vocalize her story and the larger story of the community. She takes all the negative that is thrown at the LGBTQ community and throws it right back by celebrating it.

“I always felt the way to educate people who didn’t understand me was to tell my story, but I took it a step further, and I made the choice to embrace everything I had ever been taught to hate about myself and instead glorify it, celebrate it. I would embrace my two spirit nature with the intention that if people could listen to my story and forget all this (gesturing to her full drag), they would realize that despite appearances, it is what is on the inside that matters. And that what every human being wants and deserves is love, respect, equality, and justice. With that in mind, I created Coco Peru, and it became my mission to empower my community while letting the world know that drag queens empower a powerful law of mama nature’s. And that is, if you transform the outer, you can transform the inner, and vice-versa, if you transform the inner, you can transform the outer. Yes, we gender benders understand that if you have the balls to change yourself, you have the power to change the world.”

And so Coco began a long acting career both on screen and on stage. Notably, she starred in “Girls Will Be Girls”, “Trick”, and even “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything. Julie Newmar.” You may remember her as the angry drag queen who missed the opportunity to take the trip to California.

However, the majority of Coco’s career has been her stand up routines. For almost 20 years she has been both empowering and inspiring her audiences, while almost making the laugh out loud. Take a look:

Coco continued her activism work alongside her acting work. She helped create the bullying documentary “Teach Your Children Well” and she spends much of her time volunteering for organizations like the Trevor Project and Aids for Aids. Visibility is a big thing for her, so she shops and goes out in drag. She says this is how she feels most comfortable, and it creates an awareness of the community. You can see one of her shopping experiences here:

Miss Coco Peru just wants to make the world a better place. She says she follows a long history of drag queens making a difference. She recognizes the work that many of the queens have done for the community, which is often overlooked in queer history.

“I want to recognize all the drag queens out there in the world and in the worlds beyond, who despite being the first to start the queer movement at Stonewall and who were also among the first to respond to the AIDS crisis by organizing fundraisers, are often dismissed and their contributions rarely recognized.”

If you would like to listen to her empowering speech, you can find it here: