Speaking of Cigars
Simon Sheppard, QSyndicate.com
Sometimes, as Sigmund Freud famously remarked, a cigar is just a cigar.
But when it comes to queer men, a cigar is often something more; that stogie
clamped between a macho guy's jaws can be a big, fat, odiferous phallic
symbol. As one butch fellow notes, "I manage to attract attention simply by
smoking a cigar. Seems like lots of guys – from daddy tops to bottomboys –
love the look and the smell."
Still, one might argue that a big, brown, leaf-wrapped cylinder sticking out
of one's mouth is not in and of itself attractive; it's clear that the
enduring appeal of the cigar is all about masculinity. In the queer world,
Robustos often go hand-in-hand with hairy chests, muscles, facial hair,
uniforms, or leather – the whole nine macho yards. A craggy leatherman or
burly bear kicking back, putting his boots up, and puffing away on a big
cigar is a fetishized icon of manly strength. "I'll admit it," says one
leatherguy. "Just the smell of cigar smoke can give me a woody."
Stogies are props of swaggering power. Even less ostentatiously butch
businessmen flaunt their clout when they puff a $10 Torpedo. Unlike its
less-eroticized cousins – the everybody-smokes-'em cigarette and the
too-tweedy-to-be-sexy pipe – that thick, eight-inch-long Giant Corona exudes
"alpha male." Just the names of cigar sizes – "Toro," "Robusto,"
"Churchill" – speak of manly manliness. (Skinny, slim Cigarillos, it's safe
to say, carry little of that dick-hardening, ultrabutch erotic charge; size
It's not always just a matter of smoking, either; cigars can be used as toys
in erotic play. Submissives kneel to light their masters' stogies, grateful
to have smoke blown in their faces or to feel the warmth of a glowing cigar
tip. Ash play – flicking ashes as a sign of domination, using a bottom's
body as an ashtray – can be kinkily hot. (Literally too hot if a top's not
careful.) "One of the most exciting scenes I've witnessed," recalls the
aforementioned leatherguy, "involved a master flicking cigar ash onto his
boot and his slave licking it off." And then there's insertion play, the
most publicized case involving a certain very het former president.
Others are not nearly so sure of the Panatela's appeal. "My frail granddad
used to smoke cigars," says an otherwise butch nonfan. "So the smell always
reminds me of a bunch of out-of-shape old men sitting around gossiping.
A cigar rapidly makes its presence known to anyone within smelling distance.
For each guy delighted by the odor, there's probably another who thinks
that, as one man bluntly puts it, "Cigars really stink." So if the
thoughtful homo is going to engage in cigar play in a group situation, he
should make sure all concerned are agreeable, especially if he's going to
And there's one other matter: Cigars are simply not very good for you. "Most
gay men hate to criticize other queers' erotic practices," says an
antismoking activist. "But research indicates that gay men smoke in much
higher numbers than the general population. Cigar smoking causes a variety
of cancers, and there's the proven risk of secondhand smoke. Eroticizing it
is just as wrong in my eyes as eroticizing unsafe sex. I know that may make
me sound like a prude, and the transgressive, dangerous aspect of smoking is
in itself an erotic plus for some guys, same as with barebacking. But hey, I
just want gay men to live long, healthy lives." (Of course, it's important
to note that an occasional cigar-based sex scene is a whole lot less
dangerous than a three-cigar-a-day habit.)
So, with due deference to Dr. Freud, it's clear that cigars can be many
things: masculine signifiers, sex toys, phallic symbols, even threats to
health. And also, for many, a relaxing good smoke: just a cigar.
Simon Sheppard is the author of Kinkorama: Dispatches from the Front Lines
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