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December 27th, 2009
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strange sex some may have known
     “Molte son le volte che li muscoli componitori de’ labbri della bocca movano li muscoli laterali a sè congiunti, e altrettante son le volte che essi muscoli laterali movano li labbri d’essa bocca, ritornandola donde da sè ritornare non po, perchè l’uffizio del muscolo è di tirare e non di spingere, eccetto li membri genitali e la lingua.”
—Leonardo da Vinci, De vocie, in Edmondo Solmi, “Il trattato di Leonardo da Vinci sul linguaggio «De vocie»”, 1906
“There are many occasions when the muscles that form the lips of the mouth move the lateral muscles that are joined to them, and there are an equal number of occasions when these lateral muscles move the lips of this mouth, replacing it where it cannot return of itself, because the function of muscle is to pull and not to push except in the case of the genitals and the tongue.”
The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, translated by Edward MacCurdy, 1939
     “I tell you that one?…I tell you about the Polack who thinks Peter Pan’s a wash basin in a cathouse?…The difference between erotic and kinky? Erotic you use a feather, kinky you use the whole chicken?”
—Elmore Leonard, Stick, 1983
     I write about what people do to each other. It isn’t pretty.
—Derek Raymond, The Hidden Files, 1992
     HANNAH: Sex and literature. Literature and sex. Your conversation, left to itself, doesn’t have many places to go. Like two marbles rolling around a pudding basin. One of them is always sex.
BERNARD: Ah well, yes. Men all over.
HANNAH: No doubt. Einstein—relativity and sex. Chippendale—sex and furniture. Galileo—‘Did the earth move?’ What the hell is it with you people?
—Tom Stoppard, Arcadia, 1993


At the outset of an eponymous 1832 novel, Honoré de Balzac caused Louis Lambert, his precocious Swedenborgian hero, to air out his doctrines of meaning:
—Souvent, me dit-il, en parlant de ses lectures, j’ai accompli de délicieux voyages, embarqué sur un mot dans les abîmes du passé, comme l’insecte qui flotte au gré d’un fleuve sur quelque brin d’herbe. Parti de la Grèce, j’arrivais à Rome et traversais l’étendue des âges modernes. Quel beau livre ne composerait-on pas en racontant la vie et les aventures d’un mot ? sans doute il a reçu diverses impressions des événements auxquels il a servi ; selon les lieux il a réveillé des idées différentes ; mais n’est-il pas plus grand encore à considérer sous le triple aspect de l’âme, du corps et du mouvement ? À le regarder, abstraction faite de ses fonctions, de ses effets et de ses actes, n’y a-t-il pas de quoi tomber dans un océan de réflexions ? La plupart des mots ne sont-ils pas teints de l’idée qu’ils représentent extérieurement ? à quel génie sont-ils dus ! S’il faut une grande intelligence pour créer un mot, quel âge a donc la parole humaine ? L’assemblage des lettres, leurs formes, la figure qu’elles donnent à un mot, dessinent exactement, suivant le caractère de chaque peuple, des êtres inconnus dont le souvenir est en nous. Qui nous expliquera philosophiquement la transition de la sensation à la pensée, de la pensée au verbe, du verbe à son expression hiéroglyphique, des hiéroglyphes à l’alphabet, de l’alphabet à l’éloquence écrite, dont la beauté réside dans une suite d’images classées par les rhéteurs, et qui sont comme les hiéroglyphes de la pensée ? L’antique peinture des idées humaines configurées par les formes zoologiques n’aurait-elle pas déterminé les premiers signes dont s’est servi l’Orient pour écrire ses langages ? Puis n’aurait-elle pas traditionnellement laissé quelques vestiges dans nos langues modernes, qui toutes se sont partagé les débris du verbe primitif des nations, verbe majestueux et solennel, dont la majesté, dont la solennité décroissent à mesure que vieillissent les sociétés ; dont les retentissements si sonores dans la Bible hébraïque, si beaux encore dans la Grèce, s’affaiblissent à travers les progrès de nos civilisations successives ? Est-ce à cet ancien Esprit que nous devons les mystères enfouis dans toute parole humaine ? N’existe-t-il pas dans le mot VRAI une sorte de rectitude fantastique ? ne se trouve-t-il pas dans le son bref qu’il exige une vague image de la chaste nudité, de la simplicité du vrai en toute chose ? Cette syllabe respire je ne sais quelle fraîcheur. J’ai pris pour exemple la formule d’une idée abstraite, ne voulant pas expliquer le problème par un mot qui le rendît trop facile à comprendre, comme celui de VOL, où tout parle aux sens. N’en est-il pas ainsi de chaque verbe ? tous sont empreints d’un vivant pouvoir qu’ils tiennent de l’âme, et qu’ils lui restituent par les mystères d’une action et d’une réaction merveilleuse entre la parole et la pensée. Ne dirait-on pas d’un amant qui puise sur les lèvres de sa maîtresse autant d’amour qu’il en communique ? Par leur seule physionomie, les mots raniment dans notre cerveau les créatures auxquelles ils servent de vêtement. Semblables à tous les êtres, ils n’ont qu’une place où leurs propriétés puissent pleinement agir et se développer. Mais ce sujet comporte peut-être une science tout entière ! Et il haussait les épaules comme pour me dire : Nous sommes et trop grands et trop petits ! “Often,” he has said to me when speaking of his readings, “often have I made the most delightful voyages, carried along by a word down the abysses of the past, like an insect floating on a blade of grass consigned to the flow of a river. Starting from Greece, I would get to Rome, and traverse the extent of modern ages. What a fine book might be written of the life and adventures of a word! Doubtless it has received various stamps from the events that it has served; it has revealed different ideas in different places; but is it not still grander to consider it under the triple aspects of soul, body, and motion? To regard it in the abstract, apart from its functions, its effects, and its actions, is it not a matter of falling into an ocean of reflections? Are not most words colored by the idea they represent externally? To whose genius are they due? If it takes great intelligence to create a word, how old does it make human speech? The combination of letters, their shapes, and the look they give to the word, are the exact reflection, in accordance with the character of each nation, of the unknown beings whose memory survives in us. Who would philosophically explain to us the transition from the sensation to a thought, from the thought to a word, from the word to its hieroglyphic expression, from the hieroglyphics to an alphabet, from the alphabet to written eloquence, whose beauty resides in a series of images classified by rhetoricians, and forming, as it were, the hieroglyphics of thought? Was it not the ancient mode of representing human ideas as embodied in the forms of animals that determined the shapes of the first signs that the Orient used for writing down its language? Then has it not left its traditional traces within our modern languages, which have all inherited some remnant of the primitive speech of nations, a majestic and solemn tongue whose majesty and solemnity decrease as communities grow old; whose sonorous tones ring in the Hebrew Bible, and still are noble in Greece, but grow weaker under the progress of our successive civilizations? Is it to this time-honored spirit that we owe the mysteries lying buried in every human word? Is there not a certain fantastic rectitude in the word TRUE? Does not the compact brevity of its sound contain a vague image of chaste nudity, of the simplicity of truth in all things? The syllable exudes an ineffable freshness. I chose the formula of an abstract idea on purpose, not wishing to pose the problem with a word that should make it too easy to the apprehension, as the word FLIGHT for instance, which is a direct appeal to the senses. But is it not so with every word? They are all stamped with a living power that comes from the soul, and which they restore thereto through the mysterious and wonderful action and reaction between thought and speech. Might we not speak of it as a lover who draws from the lips of his mistress as much love as he gives? Thus, by their mere physiognomy, words call to life in our brain the beings whom they serve to clothe. In the way of all beings, they have but one place where their properties can fully act and develop. But perhaps the subject comprises a science to itself!” And he would shrug his shoulders, as if to say, “But we are too high and too low!”

Thus Balzac extends etymological naturalism of Cratylus into the realm of Romantic aesthetics. In keeping with his observations, etymological creation continues in our days. Accordingly, in a muchly discussed article published by The New York Times on 5 November 2006, James Gleick testified:
Much of the new vocabulary appears online long before it will make it into books. Take geek. It was not till 2003 that O.E.D.3 caught up with the main modern sense: “a person who is extremely devoted to and knowledgeable about computers or related technology.” Internet chitchat provides the earliest known reference, a posting to a Usenet newsgroup, net.jokes, on Feb. 20, 1984.
In a Usenet message dated 10 January 2004, OED lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower confirmed the policy of “accep[ting] Usenet quotes as archived on (formerly) DejaNews or (now) Google Groups, in certain circumstances.” Hence a specimen of OED draft entry dated March 2003, which reflects such acceptance in language unfit to print in our newspaper of record:
felch, v.
coarse slang
(orig. U.S.).
[Origin unknown.]
trans. Usually of a male homosexual: to stimulate the anus of (a sexual partner) orally; spec. to remove orally semen ejaculated into the anus of (a partner). Also: to insert a small animal, esp. a gerbil, into the anus of (a partner) for sexual stimulation.

1972 R. A. FARRELL in Anthropol. Linguistics 14 101 Feltch, to use one’s mouth or tongue on the anus of his partner; anilingus. 1985 Nat. Lampoon Sept. 15 What is your definition of ‘kinky’?.. Felching [a prominent politician]. 1997 N. KELLY in S. Champion & D. Scannell Shenanigans (1999) xviii. 293 A Canadian body-builder..very kindly offered to ‘felch’ [him] in the gents’ toilets.
felching n.
1989 Re: How can you eat Unwashed Pussy? in alt.sex (Usenet newsgroup) 17 Nov., The story also talks about sucking on the clitoris… But..I want to read about *felching! 1993 Private Eye 10 Sept. 17/1 A felching session had gone seriously wrong. ‘I pushed a cardboard tube up his rectum and slipped Faggot, our gerbil, in… I tried to retrieve Faggot but he wouldn’t come out again.’ 1998 Village Voice (Nexis) 14 July 10 ‘A Dutch oven’..double vaginal, double anal… And then there’s just your regular old felching.
The article has remained unchanged since its initial appearance, the relevant OED appeals having been discussed on the American Dialect Society Mailing List on Friday, 21 June 2002 10:36:08 -0400. The dictionary entry quoted above remains accessible via OED online subscription through participating institutions. Regrettably, its traditionalist lexicography manifests a number of characteristic flaws in striving to catch up with amateur competitors. Let us follow the life and adventures of this word, considering it under the triple aspects of soul, body, and motion.

*


The OED makes its first reference to Ronald A. Farrell’s “The Argot of the Homosexual Subculture”.[1] Richard A. Spears had previously cited this source in the 2001 edition of his Slang and Euphemism, published by Signet. But there is no shortage of prior and arguably more significant appearances of its definiendum. In an influential article on Homosexual Slang,[2] Julia P. Stanley gave the meaning of “felch queen” as “One who obtains sexual pleasure by seeing or coming in contact with fecal matter”. Her article appeared two years before the definition of ‘feltch’ as anilingus given in Anthropological Linguistics and noted by the Oxonian lexicographers.

In regard to the etymological obscurity claimed by the OED, the editor of a competing lexicographic compendium had recorded a plausible conjecture in advance of its entry:
felch v. [1970s+] (mainly gay) to lick out the semen from the anus of someone who has just been sodomized; the semen is then often spat into the partner’s mouth (cf. AUSTRALIAN n.). [? echoic; but note suggestion by the linguist Laura Wright (in personal correspondence): ‘“Filch” [FILCH v.] originally meant to hook something out of something with a stick according to the OED and in the Bridewell it always involves the hooking of something with a stick covered in sticky lime, so when I heard about modem ‘felch’ […] I figured that the two variants have a common source, and the usual P-DE meaning has lost the sense of hooking and kept the sense of stealing’]
felcher n. [1970s] (gay) a man who ejaculates into another man’s rectum and then eats all of what he has deposited there. [FELCH v.]
felch queen n. [1970s+] a male homosexual who is stimulated by felching. [FELCH v.+QUEEN n.2(1)/QUEEN sfx (2)]
—Jonathon Green, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Cassell, 2006, p. 496
In fact, although the OED does not connect the verb filch with hooking, it does define filch as a noun that originally stood for “[a] staff with a hook at one end, used to steal articles from hedges, open windows, etc.” But if the homology of the felching tongue with a filching hook is suggestive, it supports a derivation that falls short of folk etymology.

*


Another OED omission relates to popular culture. “What I Think of All the Foolish Nonsense I’ve Been Involved In” is the transcript of a conversation Al Davoren had with Robert Crumb on August 6, 1972.[3] In its course Robert Crumb advised Al Davoren to look for Felch, a new pocket-sized dirty comix, coming soon. The 1975 appearance of this graphic masterpiece is duly documented by Wikipedia editors with a quotation from Robert Williams:
OK, since we didn’t get in any trouble with Snatch and Jiz, and a couple of these other comics, I was partying one night with Crumb, Wilson and these other guys. And [S. Clay] Wilson mentioned to me, he says, “I was talking to Ken Weaver and he had this real interesting word.” I said what, “what it?” A word called “felch.” I said, “what does that mean?” He said, “it is a real old term and it means orally withdrawing semen from someone’s lower digestive track after having anal sex.” I said, “there’s a word for something like that?” That’s incredible that not only is there a word like that, but it has a provenance. Hell yeah, we’re going to do a felch comic. So I talked to Crumb, “yeah we’re going to do a felch comic.”


Most recently distinguished by his cumic version of the Book of Genesis, Robert Crumb proceeded to instruct his countercultural fan base that “A Load in the Pooper Makes Retrieving Just Super!”

*


In accounting for connections between sex, gay men, and AIDS, Peter Davies attested in 1993, that “Between 70% and 90% have engaged in inter-femoral intercourse, anilingus, body rubbing, massage, anal fingering and anal intercourse.” Five years earlier, commenting upon acquisition of HIV infection in homosexual men, Walter E. Stamm and his co-authors provided more specific details: “92% of these men reported that they practiced receptive anal intercourse, and 63% practiced anilingus.” Putting the matter in a historical perspective whilst addressing the practice of present concern in 1997, Kenneth A. Borchardt and Michael A. Noble commented upon the gay bowel syndrome, that “by providing direct fecal-oral contact, anilingus circumvents several thousand years of public health progress aimed at separating human excreta from food and water supplies.” In a more lyrical vein of celebrating male homo-eroticism in modern poetry, Gregory Woods reminded his readers: “Once called the osculis posterioris or osculum infame, anilingus was officially associated with witchcraft, in a Bull issued by Pope Gregory IX, in 1233.” It was said that devil-worshippers administered the kiss of shame to the anus of their goat-like idol at the witches’ sabbath.[4]

Witch Giving a Ritual Kiss to the Devil
Francesco Maria Guazzo, Compendium maleficarum, Milan, 1626, p. 71

Making no mention of witchcraft in the pursuit of his personal devil, Kenneth Starr referenced Monica Lewinsky’s deposition of 26 August 1998 attesting to her engagement in oral-anal contact with Bill Clinton among possible grounds for his impeachment. Her linguistic ingress into the ultimate seat of worldly power reminds us to expand the purview of our study to heterosexual interactions. As Boris Vian defined woman, she is that, which has been found to be the best replacement for man, when one has the misfortune of not being a pederast.[5] It would be wrong to confine our discussion of felching to male-on-male intercourse. Thus this confessional treasure from the book by Lisa-Jane Lukies, which took one of its readers “on journey of discovery through a rare glimpse inside someone elses inner most thoughts”:[6]
FELCHING
Excuse me!!!
—my bum did belch
and you just came
I felt it squelch
Quick withdraw and
give me your lips.
NO! Not my mouth,
below the hips!
Oh yes!
Let’s wait for a belch
wait
wait
it’s coming,
now Felch!
Notwithstanding romantic exertions of Lisa-Jane Lukies, felching became riotously funny by the mid-Nineties, as witness its employment in the capacity of a rib-tickling eponym in a period comedy:
MARY: Okay, how do you guys know each other?
LLOYD: We used to be best friends.
HARRY: Yeah, until he turned into a back-stabber.
LLOYD: Me, a back-stabber? You’ve got a lot of nerve. You knew I was crazy about her!
HARRY: Yeah, and you knew I was crazy about Fraida Felcher, and that didn’t stop you, did it?
LLOYD: What do you mean?
HARRY: “What do you mean?” Don’t deny it, Lloyd. Fraida told me the whole sleazy story, Mr. French Tickler! I guess we both learned a little something about each other today.
LLOYD: You said it, pal. Maybe we’re not as good of friends as we thought. I mean, if one beautiful girl can rip us apart, then maybe our friendship isn’t worth a damn. Maybe we should call it quits right now.
HARRY: You just tell me where to sign, bud.
LLOYD: Right on my ass after you kiss it!
HARRY: You kiss mine! Both cheeks, both lips, right here!
History fails to record the litany of spleens ruptured as a result of the juxtaposition of Fraida’s not entirely uncommon surname with an invitation to kiss a man’s ass.

*


As reproduced above, the OED draft dictionary entry conflates felching with gerbiling. In the early 1980s, a Philadelphian KYW TV newscaster Jerry Penacoli was rumored to have visited an emergency room to dislodge a gerbil from his colon. The rumor ran Penacoli out of town and neologized a new verb: gerbilling. Similar rumors about public figures emerged nationwide throughout the 1980s, culminating in the most famous gerbilling legend of all, which involved actor Richard Gere, allegedly admitted to an LA emergency room for anal extraction of his pet, a gerbil named “Tibet.” A faxed letter reputedly from the ASPCA accusing Gere of “gerbil abuse” made the rounds in Hollywood shortly after the film Pretty Woman was released in 1990. Upon being confronted by Barbara Walters in November 1991 about unspecified “salacious rumors”, Gere responded with a koan: “If I am a cow and someone says I’m a zebra, it doesn’t make me a zebra.” Gere elaborated his non-response in the January 1994 Vanity Fair cover story:
Gere refuses to answer on the record whether he’s gay; he feels that to do so would cast an implicit value judgment on others. “It doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay,” he argues. “Cosmically, there’s nothing wrong with being heterosexual, homosexual, or omnisexual—with being anything, as long as you don’t hurt anybody, yourself included. The accusation is meaningless, and whether it’s true or false is no one’s business. I know who I am; what difference does it make what anyone thinks, if I live truthfully and honestly and with as open a heart as I can? This kind of silly prejudice cripples everyone—the people who think them and the people they lay their judgments on. It’s insane. It’s schoolyard stuff, real kid stuff. But if you start to take a defensive mode and say, ’No, I’m not,’ it gives credence to the idea that there’s something wrong with it, and there’s nothing wrong with it. I have no interest in putting myself in a category. My best friends in the world are gay, and I also have heterosexual friends. Why would I ever put myself in a category that would lay judgment on friends of mine?”
    He sighs, rolling his eyes. “If I was a leopard, and someone came up and started screaming, ’You’re a cow!’—is a leopard going to be uptight about this? He knows he’s a leoplard. He’s going to think, What silly people.”
The questions this tirade posed trumped those it might have closed. What omnisexual candidate for stuffing up one’s ass qualified as “anybody” liable to get hurt? What consequences of this reception qualified as hurting yourself? Popular responses ranged from mockery in TV comedy shows to knowing allusions in horror flicks, culminating in t-shirt portrayals of protesting rodents.[7]


Researchers, including Mike Walker from the National Enquirer, strove in vain to document an instance of gerbil-stuffing by anyone, anywhere. A promising lead popped up in a book published in 1992 by the American Hospital Association. The Hospital Emergency Department: A Guide to Operational Excellence, edited by Theodore A. Matson, included the entry “rectal mass—gerbils” under the category of emergency-room procedures that require 25 minutes to perform. But when an investigator contacted John A. Page, the author of the section in question, he claimed that “the proofreader at the AHA obviously had a sense of humor”.

*


Public intellectuals remained unconvinced. Gerbiling was consigned to the realm of urban legends by such polymathist authorities as Cecil Adams, Snopes, TAFKAC, and alt.tasteless FAQ. The definitive skeptical treatment sprung up in folklore studies:[8]
“The Colo-Rectal Mouse”
A friend of a friend knows someone working at a local hospital who supposedly was present when a homosexual man came into the emergency room to have a live mouse or other small creature removed from his rectum. He had used a greased plastic tube to insert the mouse, having heard that this would give him the ultimate sexual thrill. The string he had tied to the mouse broke when the man tried to pull it out. Sometimes a mouse skeleton is stuck inside the man, or the creature is a small lizard whose tail broke off when the man tried to pull it back out.
    This story appeared in 1984 and quickly spread across the United States. The animal came to be referred to consistently as a gerbil in subsequent years when this legend was applied specifically to several male media figures who were thought by the public to be homosexual.
See also Gerbiling
    References: [Jan Harold Brunvand,] [The] Mexican Pet: [More “new” Urban Legends and Some Old Favorites], [W. W. Norton & Company, 1988,] 78-79
Gerbiling
The sketchy “ Colo-Rectal Mouse” rumor of 1984 quickly evolved into a story packed with circumstantial details about an assumed gay male celebrity who supposedly gratified himself by inserting a live gerbil into his rectum. His behavior was allegedly discovered when he came to a hospital emergency room to have a stuck rodent removed. This homophobic (and sometimes AIDS-tinged) story was attached to a TV broadcaster in Philadelphia and to a major film star in Hollywood, among several other prominent men, but it is implied in all versions that “gerbiling” is a standard practice among many homosexual males.
     Misinformation is rife in the accounts of gerbiling. Not only is there the usual vagueness about hospital treatment of the supposed perpetrators; some writers have implied that published medical records support the claim that gerbiling is an actual practice. Searches of medical databases have found no such reports. Other people point to the “proof” that gerbils cannot be found in Southern California pet shops, but the reason for this is not that homosexuals have cornered the gerbil market, or to protect the animals from perverted misuse, but simply to protect the state’s ecology and agriculture; gerbils, which multiply rapidly, are illegal to keep or sell in that state. A recent account of a supposed gerbiling accident treated in a Salt Lake City hospital was completely fictional, even to the point of naming a nonexistent local health-care facility.
See also “The Colo-Rectal Mouse”
    References: Norine Dresser, “The Case of the Missing Gerbil”, Western Folklore 58 (1994): 229-242; Becky Vorpagel, “A Rodent by Any Other Name: Implications of a Contemporary Legend,” International Folklore Review 6 (1988): 53-57.
Undeterred by want of confirmation, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh filed a regular “Gerbil Update” in the course of denouncing homosexuality as “deadly, sickly behavior”. Grass-roots gerbil protection movements emerged on college campuses across the nation.[9] But the most lurid, if curiously sympathetic description of the gerbil myth belonged to the British crime writer Derek Raymond:
The narrow stair wound up to the next floor and ended up at a small landing and a white-painted door, which was locked. Stevenson found his flashlight and looked at the lock. ‘Banham,’ he said. Then he got the keys out that we had taken. I looked at them in the palm of his hand.
    ‘Not one to fit,’ he said.
    I said: ‘That’s easy. Give us a hand. One, two, three, both of us, OK?’
    ‘When you’re ready.’
    We took all the space across the landing and gave the wood our right shoulders. It shuddered: it wasn’t the kind of door constructed to answer back.
    ‘Again,’ I said, and this time the lock did our work for us, tearing the mouth it was bolted into out of the jamb so that the door fell back open.
    ‘That’s better,’ I said, ‘let’s have some light on the place.’ Everything was in pitch darkness.
    But before he moved, Stevenson stood still on the threshold and said: ‘Wait. Do you smell something?’
    I paused to breathe in and then said: ‘Do you mean something live? Is that what you’re saying?’ I added: ‘Yes.’ Something small moved in the darkness.
    ‘Don’t you smell straw?’ said Stevenson. ‘And vermin?’
    ‘Light,’ I said.
    We found a switch with our flashlights and lit the place.
    It was full of cages.
    ‘Let’s see what’s in the cages,’ I said.
    Roughly there had been silence in the place until we lit it; now there was an increasingly flourishing rattle in the straw, a rustle of little bodies. Aroused by the light, things darted about trying to bury themselves in the deftness of their panic, fleeing the light, trying to hide as prisoners in a cell do in their bedding when the people come for them.
    ‘Why,’ I said, ‘they’re little rats.’
    ‘Nearly,’ said Stevenson, ‘but not quite.’
    ‘What are they, then?’
    He said: ‘They are African by origin, I think they’re gerbils, let’s see.’ The cages opened from the top; Stevenson opened one and grabbed an occupant. He held it by its tail; it seemed to die; it drooped, almost motionless.
    ‘What does it mean?’ I said to Stevenson.
    ‘It replaces a hard-on. It’s a tunneller, it goes in where I think it does, it nibbles, it excites, it panics, it dies, and then you pull it out again by the string that you’ve attached to its tail. Of course you have to shave its skin off first so it gives the same nice smooth feel as a prick.’
    ‘Why breed them here? I said, ‘on top of a nightclub?’
    ‘Don’t be innocent,’ said Stevenson, ‘this is the upstairs.’
    ‘How do you read it?’ I said.
    ‘I read money and desire.’
    ‘Explain,’ I said. ‘Tell me everything you know and think.’
    ‘When it comes to AIDS,’ said Stevenson, ‘you’re rich, but you’ve got it—you’re loaded with money, but you’re infected, you want to fuck still, but with whom?’ He put the gerbil down and said: ‘There’s money in that. You know what organized crime is—it’s supply and demand.’
    ‘And Suarez?’
    ‘Well, she was bound to get it,’ said Stevenson, ‘wasn’t she?’
    I said: ‘Well, that’s murder and you don’t even die.’
    ‘Stevenson said: ‘That’s a lot of people.’
    ‘I know,’ I said.
    Stevenson said: ‘My dad was a miner in the north; he died in an explosion a thousand yards down, Geordie main Colliery.’
    ‘Do you understand that poor girl Suarez,’ I said, ‘watching herself die in her mirror day by day?’
    ‘Oh yes,’ said Stevenson, ‘absolutely. You go out to work for next to nothing, and you run a mortal risk.’
    ‘Poor darling,’ I said, ‘that’s just what I can’t stand, you see?’
    ‘Ah, stop it,’ Stevenson said, ‘stop it, will you?’
    ‘How can we stop it, the way we see our work, though?’ I said.
    ‘What? Just let it all slide?’
    I said: ‘My father had a little corner shop, drapery, South London; yet he was in the Engineers during the war and defused mines on the beaches, and I’m very proud of him, glad to be his son. He told me once: “They made me an officer so that I could ask the sergeant for the right tools to go up to it.” I said: “Weren’t you frightened, Dad?” He said: “All the time, but you reckoned you were protected—it was important what we were doing. I wouldn’t have had our boys treading on one of them.”’
    ‘All right,’ said Stevenson, so what do we do now?’
—Derek Raymond, I was Dora Suarez, Ballantine Books, 1990, pp. 139-142

In his artful memoir, Raymond postulated that his trademark genre, the black novel, “describes men and women whom circumstances have pushed too far, people whom existence has bent and deformed. It deals with the question of turning a small, frightened battle with oneself into a much greater struggle—the universal human struggle against the general contract, whose terms are unfillable, and where defeat is certain”. He recognized I Was Dora Suarez as his greatest and most onerous achievement:[10]
Writing Suarez broke me; I see that now. I don’t mean that it broke me physically or mentally, although it came near to doing both. But it changed me; it separated out for ever what was living and what was dead. I realised it was doing so at the time, but not fully, and not how, and not at once. […] I asked for it, though. If you go down into the darkness, you must expect it to leave traces on you coming up—if you do come up. It’s like working in a mine; you hope that hands you can’t see know what they’re doing and will pull you through. I know I wondered half way through Suarez if I would get through—I mean, if my reason would get through. For the trouble with an experience like Suarez is that you become what you’re writing, passing like Alice through the language into the situation.
Raymond wrote of the one general contract that was valid for all mankind, containing the uses, responsibilities, limitations, and the inevitable eclipse of human life. He took this contract for the basis of the black novel, which expressed its loathing of violence by describing it as precisely as possible in order to remind people how disgusting it was. He meant this precision to reflect “what people do to each other”. But his readers were left with no way of ascertaining the reality of transgressions that sprung from the imagination of the writer. Even so, with specific breaches of the general contract encompassing the use of an enema with concrete mix and epoxy resin, could a like procedure with live animals be forever kept behind?[11]

*


Lexical convergence and notional conflation of gerbiling with felching can be traced to Usenet messages dated 12 August 1993 and 14 February 1994. Just eight hours after the joke was originally promulgated, a definitive response stated:[12]
Sounds like an urban legend to me.
Besides, that’s not what felching is. Felching is the oral removal of semen from the anus.
But the online spoof eventually retrieved by the OED lexicographers from Private Eye inspired another earnest take penned by two colonial experts, a pundit of public health from the University of California at Berkeley and a professor of perinatal medicine at University of Melbourne:
Most sexually active gay men give or receive anal sex, while a small number engage in more unusual, but well documented, practices such as ‘fisting’ and ‘felching’. Fisting involves inserting the clenched hand into the anus. Perforation of the rectum can occur. Felching is the practice of inserting a live animal into the anus. Gay males in America have put gerbils in a plastic bag and then, using the cardboard tube from inside a roll of toilet paper, have had the animal inserted into the rectum. In short, there is almost no end to the strange and unusual, comic and curious, trivial or cruel, silly, bestial, dangerous, stupid, harmless or imaginative things people will do to act out their sexual fantasies, make money, amuse those they love, or exploit those over whom they exercise power.
—Malcolm Potts and Roger Short, Ever Since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexuality, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 111
At times, disclaimers conveyed mixed messages through incorporations of detailed descriptions of the allegedly apocryphal practice, barely distinguishable from earnest instructions for its performance:
felch verb: 1. an extremely rare (to the extent of being apocryphal) sexual practice involving placing a live animal (usually a small rodent or fish) into someone’s anus. Dangerous and cruel to animals. See also gerbil jamming. 2. to suck semen from someone’s anus after anal sex.
gerbil jamming verb: a form of felching which involves putting a gerbil or other small rodent inside a condom, which is then placed inside a lubricated paper towel roll that is inserted into the rectum. The paper towel roll is yanked out, leaving the bagged gerbil inside, where it will suffocate and die. This apocryphal practice is obviously dangerous and cruel to animals.
—Paul Baker, Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004, pp. 119, 134
No such ascription of apocryphal standing attaches to the nearby definitions of arguably more extreme and certainly more dangerous practices:
bug-chaser, BC noun: a man who wants to become infected with HIV. From barebacking slang.
gift-givers noun: men who are HIV positive and are willing to infect bug chasers. Barebacking slang.
Op. cit., pp. 90, 135
Indeed, deliberate transmission of HIV via barebacking, or anal sex without a condom, is well documented in medical journals and middlebrow media, culminating in the most famous case of the late postmodern philosophe Michel Foucault. Foucault denied that this movement of sexual practices had anything to do with the disclosure or the uncovering of sadomasochistic tendencies deep within our unconscious. He construed S&M as the real creation of new possibilities of pleasure, which people had no idea about previously. He disparaged as stupid the idea that S&M was related to a deep violence, that S&M practice was a way of liberating this violence, this aggression. He stressed knowing very well that what all those people were doing was not aggressive, that they were inventing new possibilities of pleasure with strange parts of their body—through the eroticization of the body. He thought it was a kind of creation, a creative enterprise.[13] But if in the discourse of gay liberation it can be said that from a bug chaser’s perspective, “becoming HIV positive involves fraternity more than disease”,[14] can it not be added that gerbiling extends this fraternity interspecifically, from an animal lover’s perspective?


In The Death Camp of Tolerance, episode 614 of South Park, aired on 20 November 2002, Lemmiwinks, the class pet of South Park Elementary, traverses the digestive tract of Mr. Slave, the domestic partner and teacher’s assistant of their teacher Mr. Garrison. While the storyline of this Comedy Central show concluded by disparaging gerbiling as unbecoming the forthright homosexual personified by the beloved figure of Big Gay Al, Mr. Garrison’s successor in the affections of Mr. Slave, its tie-ins commemorated its legend with a game aimed at guiding Lemmiwinks out of Mr. Slave’s rectum. In his postcolonialist treatment of high colonics, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, Jasbir K. Puar clarified this discrepancy by riffing on the implicit connection between a Pakistani terrorist and receptive homosexual “bottom”:
The ritualized acts of sex performed by Mr. Garrison and Mr. Slave also demarcate a queer temporality of sorts: the incommensurability of the perceived queer Pakistani terrorist and the white gay schoolteacher is at once the management of the crisis of modernity—the traditional and the modern woven together— and a reaching beyond the typical prescriptions of the past informing the present and the present reverberating back to the past, undermining the temporality of fear that aims to secure the present-future through the future, to a certain kind of futurity, the queer times of now and beyond. Mr. Slave embodies a harking back in time that projects both the future that must be conquered and the future that cannot be overcome—the future and the antifuture. The singularity of each figure lies not only in what they represent—tradition/modernity, white/brown, patriot/terrorist, assimilated/monstrous—but in what they perform, in the temporalities they issue forth. As Mbembe argues, “What connects terror, death, and freedom is an ecstatic notion of temporality and politics. The future, here, can be authentically anticipated, but not in the present. The present itself is but a moment of vision—vision of the freedom not yet come.”
The commensurability of queer terrorism with a vision of the freedom not yet come was recently established by one of Saudi Arabia’s most wanted men, Pakistani-trained Abdullah Asieri, in a failed attempt at killing Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, head of Saudi Arabia’s counter terrorism operations, with a suicide bomb stuffed in his rectum. In the wake of this explosive development, security experts warned that the United States wasn’t equipped to prevent the gross new form of terrorism. “Standard airport security is not going to detect that,” said terror expert Steve Emerson. “You need a much more intrusive type of X-ray machine that can actually see inside body cavities.”

*


Back in the world of entertainment, the colo-rectal rodent stretched its fifteen minutes of fame into thirty minutes of a butt-twitching season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm:


RICHARD LEWIS: You are abnormal. You’re the most abnormal, jerky nutcase I’ve ever met in my entire—
LARRY DAVID: You think you’re more normal than me?
RICHARD LEWIS: Fuckin’ a I am.
LARRY DAVID: I’ll have a mental patient face-off with you any day.
RICHARD LEWIS: Oh, really?
MARTY FUNKHOUSER: Larr, did you stick a gerbil up your ass?
LARRY DAVID: Who told you that?
MARTY FUNKHOUSER: I’m not gonna tell you that. It’s not important.
LARRY DAVID: Of course I didn’t stick a gerbil up my ass!
MARTY FUNKHOUSER: Don’t be upset.
LARRY DAVID: I’m upset! He’s telling everyone!
RICHARD LEWIS: Yeah, he sure is.
JEFF GREENE: On behalf of my wonderful wife Susie and myself I wanna welcome you, thank you all so much for coming. It means a lot to us, a lot to Sammie. I can tell you that we are very proud of her. (Applause.) I don’t wanna embarrass her, and so I’m gonna keep it short and just say thank you from the bottom of our hearts. What we are going to do right now is open it up to anybody who’d like to say something, make a toast, whatever, come on up.
LARRY DAVID: Yeah, I’m gonna… I’d like to say something.
SUSIE GREENE: Larry?
JEFF GREENE: All right.
LARRY DAVID: Hey! Well, first of all, I’m so thrilled to be here at Sammie’s bat mitzvah tonight…
SUSIE GREENE: Thank you.
LARRY DAVID: This is a fantastic occasion. You know, I’ve known Sammie since she… since she was born, actually… I was in the hospital, remember?
SUSIE GREENE: Yeah.
LARRY DAVID: I was in the hospital that day… And I saw her, you know, when she was, like, five minutes old. It’s not a pretty sight for me, it’s the first time I ever saw one of those things, you know? Anyway, what I really want to talk about tonight is that there is a guest here spreading a vicious, nasty, scurrilous rumor about me and a gerbil, okay? (The guests gasp.) I’m sure you’ve heard it, and there’s not a word of truth to it, okay? He has a personal vendetta, so don’t believe one word of that, it’s not true. However, in the interests of full disclosure, I will tell you that I do have a tickle in my anus, and they are slightly related to each other…
JEFF GREENE: All right. Okay.
LARRY DAVID: It’s just not true… I just thought it was important…
SUSIE GREENE: Fine, Larry, thank you very much.
LARRY DAVID: Because it’s just not right that he would spread this vicious rumor about me, okay?… that is untrue. What are you looking at, Tessler? I’ll put a fff… fist up your ass, how about that? Huh?
JEFF GREENE: Well, if anyone else has a toast, something to say…
Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 6, Episode 10: “The Bat Mitzvah”, original air date: 11 November 2007
And here our tale would end, but for the fact that the OED defines gere as an obsolete term of obscure origin standing for “[a] sudden fit of passion, feeling, transient fancy, or the like; a wild or changeful mood in which a loose [sic.] is given to the feelings of the moment.” It is the very next word to appear therein after gerbil.[15]






Footnotes:

[1] In Anthropological Linguistics 14:3, March 1972, pp. 97-109.

[2] In American Speech, Vol. 45, No. 1/2 (Spring-Summer, 1970), pp. 45-59.

[3] In Promethean Enterprises, 1973-1974, n.p.; reprinted on pp. 54-83 in R. Crumb: Conversations, edited by D. K. Holm and published by University Press of Mississippi in June 2004; see p. 53. in the latter edition.

[4] See Peter Davies, Sex, Gay Men and AIDS, Routledge, 1993, p. 107; Walter E. Stamm, MD; H. Hunter Handsfield, MD; Anne M. Rompalo, MD; Rhoda L. Ashley, PhD; Pacita L. Roberts, MS; Lawrence Corey, MD, “The Association Between Genital Ulcer Disease and Acquisition of HIV Infection in Homosexual Men”, The Journal of the American Medical Association, 1988, 260(10), pp. 1429-1433; Kenneth A. Borchardt and Michael A. Noble, Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Epidemiology, Pathology, Diagnosis and Treatment, CRC Press, 1997, p. 297; Gregory Woods, Articulate Flesh: Male Homo-Eroticism and Modern Poetry, Yale University Press, 2009, p. 36; Jonathan Durrant, “The osculum infame: heresy, secular culture and the image of the witches’ sabbath”, in Karen Harvey, The Kiss in History, Manchester University Press, 2005, pp. 36-59.

[5] “La femme est ce que l’on a trouvé de mieux pour remplacer l’homme quand on a la déveine de ne pas être pédéraste.” See Boris Vian, Textes et chansons, René Juilliard, 1966, p. 183; compare the gloss by Guy Laforêt in Boris Vian, Traité de civisme‎, C. Bourgois, 1979, p. 89.

[6] See Lisa-Jane Lukies, Sex on the Rocks, Vodka Straight Up!!!, Writers Club Press, 2003, p. 96.

[7] Thus Saturday Night Live:

Norm MacDonald: “Well, for the second week in a row, Richard Gere’s new film ‘Primal Fear’ was number one at the box office. Leaving many Hollywood insiders to wonder, ‘Hey, uh… do you think that gerbil story is true?’”
Saturday Night Live, Season 21, Episode 18, 20 April 1996
Likewise the Hollywood hit Scream, reviving the horror genre by mocking its conventions:
TATUM: You can’t prove a rumor. That’s why it’s a rumor.
SIDNEY: Created by that little tabloid twit Gale Weathers.
TATUM: (delicately) It goes further back, Sid. There’s been talk about other men.
SIDNEY: And you believe it?
TATUM: Well… you can only hear that Richard Gere gerbil story so many times before you have to start believing it.
—Kevin Williamson, Scream: A Screenplay, Miramax Books, 1997, pp. 96-97
Notably, Tatum commits a modal fallacy. A rumor is a statement that has not been proven heretofore. That does not imply that it is forever bound to remain unproven henceforth.

[8] As collected by Jan Harold Brunvand in Randy Hickman in the Encyclopedia of Urban Legends, W. W. Norton & Company, 2002, pp. 81, 166.

[9] Thus a contemporaneous report from the trenches:
While the board of regents worried about any mention of homosexuality on campus, they did not object to homophobia. Jeff Renander, editor of the University of Iowa’s conservative Campus Review, brags that during a 1990 Gay Pride Rally, “my friends and I demonstrated against the abuse of gerbils by certain segments of the gay community. (We had a gerbil graveyard with little white crosses, and our infamous gerbil quilt.)”123 [123 John Williams, “Conservative Papers Fill Niche,” College News, February 1993, 24.] Again, in September 1993, when the AIDS Quilt was exhibited at the University of Iowa, the Campus Review staff brought out the gerbil quilt. Accuracy in Academia reported the event with approval: “The ‘Gerbil Quilt,’ consisting of 25 patchwork squares each depicting a gerbil, was put on display in a glass case in the student union along with a copy of The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS by Michael Fumento and displays of statistics from the Centers for Disease Control which showed that AIDS ranks only twelfth among the leading causes of death in the United States. Gerbils were chosen for this quilt because of the role they play in certain homosexual practices.”124 [124 Campus Report, January 1994, 3.]
The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education, Duke University Press, 1995 pp. 50-51, 176
Also see this Cal State University San Marcos’ memento of an attempt to designate October 11th as CSU San MarcosSAVE the GERBIL DAY!

[10] See Derek Raymond, The Hidden Files, Little, Brown, 1992, pp. 144, 132-133, 98-99.

[11] See J.D. Denko, “Klismaphilia: Enema as a sexual preference”, American Journal of Psychotherapy, Volume 27, 1973, pp. 232–250; Peter J. Stephens and Mark L. Taff, “Rectal Impaction Following Enema with Concrete Mix”, The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, Volume 8, Issue 2, June 1987, pp. 179-182; and Anil K. Hemandas, Guy W. Muller, and Ibrahim Ahmed, “Rectal Impaction With Epoxy Resin: A Case Report”, Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery, Volume 9, Issue 5, 2005, pp. 747-749.

[12] In a contribution by Sharon Fisher to Usenet thread captioned “Gerbil gets flamed”.

[13] Michel Foucault in an interview conducted on 10 July 1978, originally published in Mec Magazine during the summer of 1988 as “Le Gai savoir” (I), 34; cited from David M. Halperin, Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 87-88, 215-216.

[14] See Tim Dean, Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking, University Of Chicago Press, 2009, p. 78.

[15] Drew Friedman’s family portrait of Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford feeding their four-legged friend, appeared in Spy magazine despite a preemptive lawyerly strike of 9 May 1990, described by Kurt Andersen, Graydon Carter, and George Kalogerakis in Spy: The Funny Years, Miramax Books, 2006, at p. 180. It was never reprinted or reproduced by the artist until this publication.

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