MEDIA: Matt Alber’s “Handsome Man” video is a 4-minute primer on gay male intimacy

One of the paradoxes of gay male porn is that it shows all the juicy explicit details of sexual intimacy while rarely giving the slightest hint of emotional or social intimacy — such as what people say in order to get into sexual situations and what they say after everybody orgasms. So guys who watch a lot of porn, especially younger guys, guys who are in the closet, late bloomers, and the sexually inexperienced, can get lulled into thinking that’s all there is and forget or never learn how to conduct the simplest forms of interpersonal socializing.  Because if you’ve never seen it, how are you supposed to know what it looks like?

The new video by Texan gay singer-songwriter Matt Alber (which debuted today on AccidentalBear.com) represents a perfect antidote or companion to a steady diet of porn. In just 4 minutes and 44 seconds, it captures a multitude of glimpses of gay male intimacy that hardly ever show up even in full-length films and TV shows about gay life.

Two good-looking guys who aren’t kids, who have facial hair, geeky glasses, and imperfect bodies — 39-year-old Alber and his buddy Alan — wake up in bed together. They get up slowly, nuzzling and smooching. They have breakfast, they go back to bed, they take pictures of each other. They share a book. One writes a secret note on the back of a strip of photo-booth shots they’d obviously taken recently. The other one reads it after the guy leaves, and you see emotion surge into his eyes.

As these scenes play out, we hear the song “Handsome Man,” which kicks off Alber’s recently released EP Wind Sand Stars. The lyric conveys some of the simple thoughts and questions that emerge when you’re Getting to Know Someone:

Hey handsome man what’d ya do last night?
Did you have a good time? Was the music all right?
Did you wear that jacket with the deep blue jeans?
Bet the boys went crazy, bet you caused a scene.
Cuz everybody smiles when a handsome man walks by

Say handsome man, where you off to now?
Are you out in the garden or off to town?
Are there any new songs that you’re listening to?
I’m gonna take ya dancing when I come to see you

Handsome man, can I ask you this?
I know we’ve both been loved and we’ve both been kissed
But when the hounds are sleeping and the night is deep
Will you tell me the story of you and me?

I love that Matt Alber prizes these tiny mundane touches of gay male affection and interest and that he’s willing to model them, to be a kind of teacher of gay intimacy. Check out the video and let me know what you think. And if you haven’t ever seen it, be sure to check out the video that put Alber on the map, “End of the World,” an even more romantic four-minute fairy tale with the kind of happy ending you don’t see in porn.

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MEDIA: “Has Porn Ruined Our Sex Lives?”

Reporter Jill Hamilton interviewed me (by e-mail) for an article she wrote for the online magazine Dame recently. The magazine primarily addresses itself to a heterosexual female audience (“For Women Who Know Better”), and the article definitely skews in that direction, leaning heavily on commentary by Dr. Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, and founding member of Stop Porn Culture. Hamilton contacted me because she wanted to get some perspective from a male sex therapist. I personally choose to pitch conversations and pronouncements about pornography in a way that acknowledges and honors sexual pleasure, and I try to combat the sex-negativity that can creep into anti-porn arguments. But I absolutely believe that the ways gay men consume pornography and the ways it affects gay male behavior and relationships — for better and for worse — are distinctly different from the ways that pornography affects dealings between hetero men and women. So I read Hamilton’s article with a lot of interest. It reminded me of the smart, cogent, and well-considered objections that observers like Dr. Dines have about the culture of porn. The article is called “Has Porn Ruined Our Sex Lives?” Check it out here and let me know what you think.

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MEDIA: “James Broughton Gave Me a Pearl Necklace”

The latest issue of RFD, the reader-written journal of the Radical Faerie community, is devoted to the late great poet and filmmaker James Broughton, the subject of recent documentary film by Stephen Silha and Eric Slade called BIG JOY. When I was younger and had a lot more hair, I had the pleasure of meeting Broughton in 1991 at the Gay Spirit Visions conference in North Carolina, and my brief remembrance of that occasion appears in RFD and below:

Joel Silver, James Broughton, and Don Shewey

Joel Silver, James Broughton, and Don Shewey

JAMES BROUGHTON GAVE ME A PEARL NECKLACE

I met James Broughton in September, 1991, when he graced the second annual Gay Spirit Visions conference in North Carolina as keynote speaker. Before that event, I knew he was a poet – his pithy, often humorous, often lightweight verses led some to consider him the contemporary gay incarnation of Rumi – and somehow I had absorbed the information that he had been married once upon a time to the legendary film critic Pauline Kael, of all people. But only in person did the full force of Broughton emerge.

He was elderly then, 77 and snowy-haired, a little frail but in pretty good health and attended by his loving companion Joel Silver. He was friendly and approachable, though of course he was also a showman. He knew how to attract and hold an audience, not so much by being loud and ostentatious but by radiating an amused intimacy and the elfin twinkle of someone who has marinated his epiphanies in joy rather than solemnity. He wore the mask of an airy-fairy gentle sprite, but when he opened his mouth to speak the hardcore metaphysical prankster revealed himself. Joseph Kramer, the visionary founder of the Body Electric School, also attended the conference as a guest speaker, and I vividly recall his rapturous attention as Broughton held forth on what he called “The Holy Trinity” – the phallus, the anus, and the perineum. Raven Wolfdancer, a beloved Atlanta faerie (later murdered on his doorstep by an unknown intruder, but that’s another story), introduced Broughton to the conference as “my bliss mentor, my ecstasy mentor. He taught me to parade my peculiar.”

For his keynote address, Broughton delivered a talk he had apparently given more than once, alternately titled “The Sexual Holiness of Men” and “The Sexuality of Spirit.” It was a kind of sermon, a dharma talk, a benediction dense with the distilled wisdom of a lifetime. You can find the verbatim text online, but in my diary I took notes, and looking at them now they contain one jewel after another. I realize that in the hour he was speaking I became a disciple, because the sentences that leapt out at me have stuck with me ever since.

Since this is a spiritual conference, I begin with a blessing: Hail Mary, quite contrary…

I’m a poet – do not expect reasoned argument.

I take my text from Novalis: “There is only one temple in the world, and that is the human body.” And the only proper activity in a temple is worship.

Churches exist to make you feel miserable.

Buddha is down on desire. Broughton is very up on desire.

Your brains have been washed with the detergent of guilt too long.

The penis is the exposed tip of the heart, the wand of the soul.

I was born to love my own kind, not compete with or acquire them.

Most communication is made of sneers and complaints. One of my mottoes is “Reach, touch, connect.”

At the baths, each cock was a bead in my rosary. Sexual loving is the true practice of religion. Put lovemaking before moneymaking and troublemaking. Teach it in schools. Holding hands, okay. Hug, yes, but with your whole body. I would add kissing. Practice this lifesaving on your neighbors. Love the living as much as the dying.

Stop thinking of yourselves as outcasts. You are meridians, raising consciousness, not babies. You can be and not beget. You may be outside of society’s mainstream but in the mainstream of wisdom.

I’d rather be kissed than stamped with approval.

MEDIA: “An Eye for an Eye”

I frequently bemoan the dearth of images of explicit physical affection that doesn’t resemble commercial pornography, so I’m delighted to call attention to this beautiful short film by Polish visual artist Artur Żmijewski.

As the website for his gallery explains, “The film features people with disabilities, who suffer from severe difficulties in their everyday lives as a result of amputations. A temporary relief in their struggle with daily activities is brought by healthy people, who lend them parts of their own bodies. In order to make up for the deficiencies of the body with disability, they lock with it in an uncanny embrace. However, offering a healthy limb requires breaking the barriers of intimacy, i.e. touching the scar – the most sensitive part of the body after amputation. Thus, Żmijewski’s film becomes a story of intimacy and ways of overcoming the mechanisms of exclusion.”

Artur Zmijewski – An Eye for An Eye, 1998 from Hurford Center on Vimeo.

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MEDIA: “The Gift of Desire”

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Last month I gave a talk at Living Soulfully, the monthly gathering the Center in New York City for friends and associates of Easton Mountain Retreat Center, where I’ve taught for many years. I adapted the talk into an article which has been published by the online gay newspaper EDGE. The gist of the article is this:

As a gay sex therapist, I spend a lot of my working hours listening to people talk about the nitty-gritty details of their sex lives. I meet a lot of smart, soulful, intelligent men frustrated at their inability to find love and connection. One of the themes that comes up again and again has to do with asking for what you want.

“Ask for what you want” is advice that’s easy to give but often strangely difficult to practice. What gets in the way of identifying our desires and sharing them with others? Growing up gay, we probably learned early on to view our deepest desires as shameful, socially unacceptable, or at the very least subject to other people’s negative judgments. No wonder we’re a little gun-shy when it comes to letting others know what we want, especially in the realm of love and erotic play.

You can read the whole article online here. Check it out and let me know what you think.

MEDIA: Quest of Life podcast on THAT’S AMORE!

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Harry Faddis co-hosts (with Stephen Sims, above) a radio show called The Quest of Life on WRPI-FM in Albany, NY. On February 15, I was a guest on his show to talk about THAT’S AMORE: Creative Rituals for Intimacy and Renewal, the retreat for gay male couples that I will be leading in Italy this coming June.

The interview is available for streaming or downloading as a podcast. Click here to tune in to what I had to say about the retreat, what makes long-term relationships thrive, and what obstacles get in the way. And let me know what you think.

If you’d like more information or to sign up for the retreat, you can find all the particulars here.

MEDIA: TED talk by Esther Perel on “the secret to desire in a long-term relationship”

Esther Perel is a Belgian-born psychotherapist and writer who specializes, like I do, in sex and intimacy for couples and individuals. We did a little bit of training together many years ago, and I like and respect her very much. She made a big splash with her book Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. In fact, her TED talk is pretty much a digest of her book’s main ideas delivered in less than 20 minutes. She asks provocative questions: can we desire what we already have? does good intimacy always make for hot sex? She empowers people in long-term relationships to understand that it’s asking a lot of your partner to fulfill every single one of your relational needs/wants/desires. Every relationship requires a tricky balancing act between the solidity of love (all about having) and the excitement of desire (all about wanting), between autonomy and connection, between stability and adventure. Of all the ingredients that add up to what she calls erotic intelligence — mystery, playfulness, novelty, curiosity — she prizes imagination above all. I like the way she encourages people to investigate deeply and honestly how they actively turn themselves on and turn themselves off. The language forces you to reclaim the power of erotic imagination, rather than making it your partner’s job to turn you on. My favorite thing she says: “Desire requires selfishness in the best sense — to hold onto yourself in the presence of another.” Check out the video and let me know what you think.