THE SEXUAL LIFE OF BRUCE B: AN INTERVIEW WITH BRUCE BENDERSON
"I can tell you that the German sexual dichotomy is completely different from the American and the French. It revolves around the clean/dirty thing. They put you through every kind of shower, sterilization, bedding change first, then get down to their primary motive, which seems to be to soil themselves. Afterwards they want to clean up again. Itís an endless cycle."
So-and-So interviews Bruce Benderson
COPYRIGHT © 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS
Bruce Benderson's first book of fiction, Pretending to Say No (Plume) put then-first Lady Nancy Reagan in a crackhouse and fantasized what would happen if Times Square street hustlers were turned into werewolves. His next book, User, a novel, became a cult favorite about the old culture of Times Square -- its junkies, hustlers, drag queen prostitutes and shady cops. Afterwards, Benderson went on to write about boxing for the Village Voice, squatters for the New York Times, and unusual shelters for nest. He also wrote the coffee-table book, James Bidgood (Taschen), about the until-then anonymous creator of the film Pink Narcissus. His book-length essay, Toward the New Degeneracy (Edgewise) connected bohemian cultures and the urban avant-garde with the culture of poverty and street life. A growing audience in France led to the publication of several republications of his books in French as well as books published only there, including Sexe et solitude (Payot), about the death of urban space and the rise of internet sex. It was sex that recently drew Benderson to Romania for several months, in pursuit of a mysterious Romanian he met in Budapest. Heís currently writing what he calls an erotic-noir memoir about that risky experience.
Several months ago, an academic journal offered to interview Benderson about sex and culture. Unhappy with the results, they gave him permission to transcribe the tape and publish it elsewhere -- as long as they werenít identified.
3AM: I canít believe Iím meeting Bruce Benderson, the guy who wrote about all that sex, drugs, those criminals you describe, the dangerous encounters. Yet you donít look very dangerous at all.
BB: Call me tired. That never looks dangerous.
3AM: Is it true that youíve had over 4,000 sexual contacts?
BB: At least.
3AM: Itís probably something that we younger writers canít understand. I mean, how is it possible to have sex that many times without having any feelings for your partners?
BB: I always feel Iím in love with the person when Iím having sex. Iíve never just had sex, my friend, Iíve made love.
3AM: You must have really covered the map when it came to your sexual, I mean, uh, loving exploits. Did you notice any differences between types of people?
BB: Oh, yes, sex is culturally mediated. Definitely.
3AM: Could you explain that?
BB: Each country has its own sexual sensibility. Take France. Since my books are published there and I speak the language, Iíve had a lot of opportunity to sample French ďmeatĒ-- as we say in certain sexual subcultures. Iíve found that there are only two basic French modes for sex: either tenderness and romanticism, which arenít very genital; or a kind of genital macho Latin brutality: wear-you-out sex.
3AM: And thatís different than, say, American sex?
BB: Are you kidding? Iíd characterize American sex as athletic. If it is sensual, this comes from the pleasure of the sport, an Anglo-Saxon interest in action, contact. But itís not good mental sex like French sex.
3AM: These sound like stereotypes, Bruce. Certainly --
BB: Donít forget theyíre based on a generous sampling -- over 4,000 units of data. Iím not jumping to any conclusions.
3AM: But just having slept with a lot of French and Americans isnít any basis for these stereotypes you come up with. What about the rest of the world? You havenít had sex all around the world.
BB: True, Iíve never had sex with someone from Iceland, for example, which irks me a bit. I hear theyíre ferociously open. Think of Bjork. But Iíve had a lot of sex with Germans, too, for some reason. And, you see, I can tell you that the German sexual dichotomy is completely different from the American and the French. It revolves around the clean/dirty thing. They put you through every kind of shower, sterilization, bedding change first, then get down to their primary motive, which seems to be to soil themselves. Afterwards they want to clean up again. Itís an endless cycle.
3AM: Are you saying all Germanic culture is like that?
BB: No. The several hundred or so Dutch Iíve slept with were pretty different. Iíd borrow a term from Max Weber, to say that Dutch sex is shaped by the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism; itís a bit like manufacturing -- ingenious, efficient, cost-effective. Practical, in other words. A cottage industry, too. With all the brothels.
3AM: Sounds pretty dreary.
BB: No, actually, it can be quite cheery, comfy. The Dutch have a marvelous appetite and a lot of energy. You get your moneyís worth.
3AM: How do they compare to the British?
BB: You know, the British are so sexually underrated. This image they project of stuffiness, rigidity is really a kind of arch sadomasochism. Iíd call their libidinal tastes ďhierarchical.Ē They adore being put in their place or putting others in their place. Iíve had sex with a few dozen Englishmen who loved to be restrained, taken against their will. Itís some kind of sublimation of their class preoccupation, Iíd think.
3AM: Ooh. Doesnít sound very pleasant.
BB: And why not? Imbalance is the great engine of desire. And besides, some of the British have quite elongated, slender thighs -- the medieval Christ thing. But if I had to be limited to one culture, I would choose the Japanese.
3AM: Arenít they kind of shy?
BB: But no, young man. Ruth Benedict was the first to say that the Japanese are inhibited by shame and not by guilt, something thatís hard for a guilt-controlled Westerner to understand. I spent a few months in Tokyo and Kyoto about ten years ago. Iíd never met such reticent tricks. They would barely speak to me in public. In Kyoto I had to ask the bartenderís permission to speak to somebody. Then the entire bar had to be adjusted so that we could sit together. The whole procedure filled everybody with shame. Which I mistook for guilt. These people are so inhibited, I thought. And once we got back to the hotel, every bellboy and desk clerk would look away or cast their eyes to the floor as we walked by. But then, the moment the shades were drawn, an extraordinary feast of pleasure was unleashed. There was no guilt, none. All sexual restraints in Japan are external, you see, they have to do with being seen. So when youíre alone, itís fireworks.
3AM: You mean theyíre good in bed?
BB: Theyíre extraordinary. I especially like those very straight, stiff, needle-like pubic hairs prickling my face.
BB: Of course, we havenít even touched on the world of sex with straight men. Thatís a different category.
3AM: Sex with a straight man? Only a self-hating homosexual would go through the trouble of trying to seduce a man whoís not gay.
BB: You really have had a bad education, havenít you? I suggest you leave the halls of academia immediately, book a passage to North Africa and throw yourself belly down on the dusty streets of some village in Tunisia. Youíll find many a friendly local glad to bottom you into ecstasy.
3AM: Yes, to prove their manhood and express their homophobia.
BB: Hardly. Why donít you give them a break and stop policing their pleasure? Ha, ha, forgive me, but I canít help chuckling at your naivite. I can tell you, from having had at least a thousand Puerto Ricans and North Africans, who are my specialty, that there is a certain kind of male born below the poverty line, raised according to standards of machismo, who has had to share close quarters with siblings, who has had to share the same bed, and had to witness parents fornicating in the same room, and who has been left unattended by working parents, and thereby developed --
3AM: This is absurd!
BB: Donít interrupt me. Who, as I was saying, through these diverse experiences, develops a certain kind of polymorphous perversity that makes him a very good fuck for any woman, man, or animal.
3AM: You really are elitistÖ and self-destructive.
BB: Itís true that a macho who engages in sex with a man in a state of inebriation may resent it in the morning. But there are those of us among whom I count myself who are diplomatic enough to handle such fallout.
3AM: What about Muslims? Donít they consider homosexuality a --
BB: Do you fuck what you consider? Iím not talking about politics. Iím talking about sex. But since you mention Muslims, one of my most hilarious encounters happened with an Algerian immigrant in Paris, who could only fuck me by imagining that a lovely woman named Fatima was hiding in the closet next to the bed and was about to pop out any moment.
3AM: Whatís the lesson in that?
BB: Oh, I guess itís that Ö sex is fantasy. I must tell you, though, that when certain cultural influences come together they unfortunately do not always work for me. I canít fuck everybody.
3AM: Whoís left?
BB: I have found that some African-Americans suffer from that Protestant inability to disembarrass themselves from their confessor at the moment of activity. A Protestant can be very problematic in bed. They carry their confessors on their back and often seem to be confessing what they do as they do it. I prefer the Catholic model: sin now, confess later. But getting back to African-Americans, since many were raised in the Protestant tradition, I feel they are sometimes inhibited by this inability to let go -- despite their reputation as hell-raisers. Then there is their tradition of performance, exaggeration, that makes me feel as if their clothing is still on even when theyíve taken if off. Another form of seeming to let go without letting go. And together, the two tendencies produce a rather theatrical but not very pleasurable experience for me.
3AM: This is really offensive to the African-American community!
BB: Loosen up, will you? Have you heard the joke about what Jewish foreplay is?
3AM: No, what?
BB: Twenty minutes of pleading.
3AM: Well . . . youíre speaking only from a homosexual perspective. You canít just generalize and say . . .
BB: Hmmm, no one ever said heterosexuals couldnít generalize about us Ö But be that as it may, my data bank does contain some heterosexual experience Ö
3AM: Early adolescent stuff?
BB: A bit more than that. Probably a little more extensive than yourself.
3AM: I doubt that.
BB: Well, Iíve only slept with about 40 women. And you?
3AM: This interviewís not about me.
BB: As you wish. But if I may generalize about women, I will say that the female organ is immensely superior to the anus in terms of function. Itís the difference between fucking a deliciously multi-hinged hydra and a fixed rubber ring.
3AM: Then why havenít you stuck with women?
BB: Well, theyíre perfectly wonderful as long as the sex is going on. Itís the aftermath I had trouble coping with.
3AM: Which is?
BB: They always want to know what it means.