Childhood trauma and pornographic visions of the Black phallus made me ashamed of masturbation
Black penises are meant to be consumed in a particular way, as pornographic fixtures.
Editor’s Note: May is Mental Health Awareness Month and National Masturbation Month. This is also the month that we celebrate Mother’s Day. At BYP, we will be exploring these topics alongside the theme of Imagination and the Arts, and we are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.
This essay contains discussion of child molestation.
by Donnie Moreland
If there were ever a word to describe my relationship with my penis, it would be estranged. I was the child who associated privacy with phallic expressions. I remember times when I was no more than six or seven, my back against a cold tub wall, skin pruned and raw, obsessed with the gentle wading of the bath waters against my sex.
I remember, very vividly, the heat of my first erection. I remember rubbing my genitals against the bristling fabric of my twin mattress, negotiating the first conditions of pleasure. I also remember my cousin molesting me, during Summers in North Carolina. Him on top of me, simulating sexual acts. Me, afraid, confused as to why my penis was reacting to these moments of violation as it had when I were alone, in control of it.
I would age. I would discover ejaculation. I would discover pornography. While I struggled to exercise the demons of my sex, the rest of me was being peeled away by Black lips, entrapped in digital ghettos, which motioned to say that I wasn’t worthy of fucking, given my penis wasn’t what I witnessed wielded by men of shared complexions. I grew angry. Slender threads pulling further apart between myself and the parts of me I once longed to be in close, private proximities.
I write anecdotally, but in being in the company of other cis-hetero Black men, I’ve come to recognize the uniqueness of my personal histories as assumed uniqueness. Thus, though I avoid the delusion of imagined objectivity, in service of Black boys who may need these words, I’ll dissect my body to unveil how trauma, both personal and cultural, can collide to dilute, and subvert, queries of “proper” masculine desire, and for which we’ll come to renegotiate the meanings of auto-erotic pleasure as means of bodily reclamation.
The Loss of All Lost Things
I wasn’t able to speak on the abuses of my childhood until I was twenty-one years of age. For more than a decade, I was haunted by the weight of my cousin, his sweat. I would have sex, for the first time, when I was eighteen, and I never found his hands on my body when I was with a woman. But, alone, there were moments when I felt his breath on back.
It wasn’t the memories of his body, on top of my own, in which I found myself disturbed. The physiological responses gave me pause. Thoughts of his act of domination, my genitals responded as though I were experiencing sensations of pleasure. As though my body were conflating his body, the first I’d experienced in that manner of closeness, as a source of pleasure. But those Summer nights were parlous nights. I felt fucked up. My explicit thoughts were, “I’m touching myself to thoughts of my cousin fake-fucking me.”
Thus, masturbation was an abnormal act. An act I associated with incestuous fantasy. And only recently did I discover, with much counsel, that what I considered a polluted mind, a polluted body, was a body poorly processing unresolved trauma. Trauma disengaged from the phrase trauma, and re-worked as adolescent exaggerations of experiences that should not have possessed me with such misery. These errors of my interpretations, I no longer sustain.
Guilty of Not Being Consumed
Black penises are meant to be consumed in a particular way, as pornographic fixtures. I’m speaking about oral fixations, but also, on a culture of consumption for which all spectators of the pornographic image subscribe. If you ever watch a pornographic film with a Black male performer as the subject of focus, you’ll recognize a pattern of how they are supposed to receive oral sex. Fellatio is supposed to be a struggle. Gagging, spitting and choking on the penis is played up to suggest how large Black penises, not are, but ought to be.
The Black penis, as consumable, is an unoriginal observation, mind you. Think Robert Mapplethorpe’s 1986 Black Book. A solo exhibit turned purchasable collection of 91 still images of Black men, with large penises, postured as sometimes God-like and sometimes as delicately doe-eyed. Considering Mapplethorpe was white and male, there are questions of whether his subjects were agents of free expression, or disposable objects of his homoerotic phallic fantasies, especially once you consider the fact that Mapplethorpe’s thesis is made up of deformed Black phallic expressions in films such as Cruising (1980) and Drum (1976).
There is something to do with phallic consumption, less “wonderment,” in the expectations of these men, more their penises, and we see the same in the Black phallic expressions of hard-core pornographic film. Black male performers aren’t allowed autonomous expressivites, no matter the attempt, i.e. Black Pay Back. Their penises are subject to a history of phallic obsessions and behaviors of consumption which makes their performance something like that of a zoo attraction. White spectators, primarily men, demanding authority of how a Black penis is seen, is used, is modeled.
At twelve, I was absent the knowledge of what was between myself and the Black pornographic performer. I was and, like most, will continue to be of comparably smaller size than these performers with whom I was in this strange digital proximity. But they got to “fuck.” And whether due to this, or pimp culture, I was under the impression that fucking for Black men involved a larger member than what I was equipped with. Thus the rage of envy. I was unworthy of something which I assumed I was in need of, thus I masturbated to these films almost as one would self-flagellate, to chastise the body. I masturbated as an act of shame. I masturbated to be shamed because I would never amount to what, and to whom, I saw fucking.
In retrospect, I was begging to be consumed and feeling guilty because I could not be. What one may consider angst, I acknowledge as a sustained cultural trauma, which coupled with my aforementioned sexual abuse meant whatever should have developed, naturally, of my adolescent phallic expressions was lost to shame, corruption and private humiliations.
I’m not a qualified sex therapist, so I can’t speak to proper resolve, but I can say that it wasn’t until I re-imagined what my relationship with self-pleasure was that I began to chip away at the shame of the act. My adolescent traumas, I found support in reconciling. Of my body, as history, I became privy to its meaning.
I believe there is something to be learned from Womanism, as a socio-physiological approach to cultural reclamation. That, as Black folk, the deranged interplay between cultural, and community, is etched deeply about our flesh, from conception, and that rehabilitation begins with the body. I don’t know what that means, specifically, for Black men, especially cis-hetero Black men, and our relationship to phallic expressions, but I am aware that such a relationship is often configured by hands not our own, even in our most private clashes with, as James Baldwin would name it, our violence. But that violence must be met with a kind of consideration of care, which history has not been so giving of to us, and for many of us, remains in the hands of our silenced inner child.