Sex talk
Speaking of Rough Trade

Simon Sheppard,

He's a thoroughly disreputable way. His smile verges on a sneer. His tattoos aren't artistic masterworks; they're the homemade kind. He's the kind of dangerous guy you'd find on a street corner somewhere, and if he let you have sex with him, he'd only let you blow him, then most likely demand to be paid. He's "rough trade." And his appeal is timeless.

Sure, the queer world is full of desirable archetypes: the muscleman; the Abercrombie & Fitch preppie; the businessman whose dick means business; the charming boy; the jock. But rough trade is something else – masculine danger and desire in its most basic form. Even the term is telling: "trade" is a hustler for hire, maybe mostly straight but gay-for-pay. And "rough" speaks for itself. Though postmodern queer theory has deconstructed "masculinity" till there's almost nothing left, the icon of the hunky thug with nothing to lose endures.

"Hell, I watch these guys in videos whom I would never invite home," says one usually fastidious, middle-class queer. "There's one company that specializes in wrestling videos, full of men who look like they just got out of jail or are heading there soon. They make me hard every time."

It's a knotty desire. Some of us are, in fact, rougher than others. Some of us are in jail, and that's all right, too. But Rough Trade, the dangerous piece of street trash you'd blow but not turn your back on...he's something sleazily special.

Face it, some gay men do fuck with fire, and sometimes they get burned. Famed Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini made no secret of his yen for hard-edged hustlers, and ended up murdered on the outskirts of Rome. Why get a hard-on for someone who might do you harm?

Part of it may well be due to internalized homophobia, the shame and self-loathing that "normal" society seeks to instill in us queers. Even if we're unaware of it, part of our psyches may still – even in these enlightened times – seek punishment for our deviant desires, and what better agent of destruction than a straight guy with a hard dick?

But beyond homophobia, there's just the general heat of danger, the edginess of sexual surrender. Risk can make a cock get hard. That's why all sorts of men, straight or queer, do all sorts of dumb things where sex is concerned. "Thinking with the little head," it's called, and few of us are immune.

Ah, the allure of unkempt masculinity! The biker archetype got its start in the 1950s, a decade that celebrated desexed conformity. "The hell with that," the Wild One in a leather jacket said, "let's fuck." And now – when the former dangers of underground gay life have been normalized into a squad of televised queens who do nothing edgier than redecorate straight men's homes – the squirmy, secret appeal of the unregenerate straight boy, the brute male, provides a cock-hardening counterpoint. Not just "gay," but "queer." About dicks, not decor.

Consider the class thing, too: the romanticized idea that lower-class guys hold the key to an unrefined, overpowering lust that the rest of us have lost on our way to the gym.

Finally, there's the odd power-flip of the Homo's Revenge: the idea that any guy, no matter how ostensibly straight, can be had with the aid of a well-trained mouth and maybe a few beers. And that he's a prize worth the risk. (See also: internalized homophobia.)

Be all that as it may, rough trade – from Jean Genet's literary criminals to the faux-rough hustlers who advertise in the back of your local gay newspaper – remains hot. But if the bad boy carries a razor, it's not to shave his chest, so be sure to distinguish fact from fantasy. And be careful out there.

Simon Sheppard is the author of Kinkorama: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Perversion

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