Rants · Tumblr Salvage

Tumblr Salvage: “On Tingle”

Hey folks — Tumblr is basically a disaster hellsite and most of my posts there are self-indulgent Sad Posts™ anyway. But there’s a couple things I wrote these that I want to save, so they’re getting reposted here.

This was originally posted on Tumblr on August 25, 2016 — almost four years ago. It is a little dated — in many ways, including details about me/my gender ID/etc. — but I think the gist is worth considering.

Chuck Tingle is very much a big thing in my social sphere right now, between the Hugos and the upcoming game. And my thoughts about the Tingle phenomenon are really, really complicated. I’m going to lay out some of that complication here, and it is complicated. There’s no easy response.

Let’s start at the beginning.

I’ve never read a Chuck Tingle story. I probably never will. They have never appealed to me much, and that’s fine. It’s the way of things. So I don’t 100% know about their content beyond what the public discussion of them presents to me.

I think the situation, though, is that it’s not actually the content of the books that gnaws at me, and in truth it never will be. It never has to be.

I don’t know anything about Chuck Tingle, but in fact even if I did, discussing him or even the work feels kind of pointless, because doing so implies that there is something different he could do in order to alleviate the situation as I see it. There is not.

My problem is that, as a dude-presenting gay person, the public reception of Tingle’s work exhausts me. Its very presence exhausts me. It leaves me tired. Just the words “Pounded by…” set me on edge, now.

The reason it leaves me tired isn’t because weird or comedic gay erotica is de facto bad. I think the reason is that there’s a universe of non-queer fans out there who find his work hilarious, find its very existence hilarious, and the problem is that this essentially boils down to “[improbable object] has anal with [improbable individual].”

Have you ever noticed that? Nobody talks about what’s actually IN the books. It’s just the titles. That’s what lives in our public consciousness. Space Raptor Butt Redemption. The State of California Stalks My Gay Butthole. Pounded by the Pound: Turned Gay by the Socioeconomic Implications of Britain Leaving the European Union. Those are just a few samples I snagged off Wikipedia, so who even knows if they’re apocryphal or not. Pretty sure one of the “raptor” ones is what got the Hugo nod, though.

Like this is a basic juxtaposition joke, repeated endlessly, and the lynchpin of said joke is anal sex between implied dudes. Whether or not it happens in the book is sort of irrelevant. What lives in the public memory is: “Haha dude buttsex taken to unreal extremes is hilarious.” The very reason the irritating lunchboxes using the Hugos as a political tool picked Tingle as their joke nomination is this very thing. They clearly picked someone they find the least deserving, the most ridiculous.

I’m not interested in speaking for anyone else but to me this focus on “haha! buttsex!” is just tiring. Because sex between dudes is already a cultural punchline of epic scope even when it’s treated considerably more seriously than “My book about my book fucking me is fucking me.” The fear of dude/dude physical intimacy is the core of a lot of our comedy as-is. Watch any sitcom with more than one male character and some “no homo”-y joke or mistaken “whoa we’re not gay!” situation will happen eventually, I guarantee it. I’d argue the situation for sex between women in the media is just as bad, but that’s a discussion for another day.

And that’s really the core of what’s getting at me, here. The problem is this high-level, free-floating idea that dude/dude sex is not just strange, but also comedic and gross. That’s a decidedly heteronormative idea, and I suspect it’s the cultural core of why Tingle stuff is so popular even with cishet audiences. Whatever actually goes on in the stories, Tingle is still profiting from that. And in the process, that norm gets subtly, sadly reaffirmed.

I feel like a lot of people who are equally tired of this phenomenon are gonna attack Tingle, or the folks making the Tingle game, because he is Problematic Now and I don’t think that’s productive, or useful, or worthwhile. Because again, the content isn’t the problem. It really isn’t.

Y’all, I’m a dude-presenting queer person who’s also fat. Convincing even other queer dudes that I have a right to be sexual without it being considered gross or funny is already an uphill fight. Add this on top of it, and… can you see why I say I’m just exhausted? Then there’s the frequency and intensity of the Tingle phenomenon and how inescapable it feels sometimes and I just… want out.

But it’s important to note that this feeling isn’t necessarily about politics, or content, or cultural critique. It is an emotional need on my part. And this is why I was so reluctant to say anything in the first place. I don’t want people to read this post and go: “Well, Tingle’s problematic, and now I need to be in opposition to it.” No, you fucking don’t. If his stuff is your thing, cool! I’m not here to baby/bathwater this situation. Drawing a battle line over this is not worth it, because it’s not about the content. It’s about Culture, big-c Culture, which all happens at such a broad and distributed level that trying to say “Well we can FIX THIS if we isolate this ONE THING and eliminate it!” is pointless.

At the same time, I think it is critical for others — especially cishet Tingle fans — to understand why some people are not into this and get nervous about its popularity and ubiquity. That is all I want for anyone: to understand how tiring it is to have this constant reminder that your sexuality is a joke threaded in and out of your day, and to have that reminder be incredibly popular.

The favor I pay back to you, the person who IS a fan, is that I don’t get in your face about it if I feel that you have acknowledged why this is such an issue for me. It sounds cliche, but if someone reads this and goes “Alright, I understand you,” then that does make me feel better.

Because that is how this high-level cultural stuff works. It is centered around what we, as a society, view as normal and acceptable. It works on things that we DON’T question, on things that we let pass without comment. The only way to push back is to bring them back into the level of awareness, to give them a name, to say “this is real, and it happens.”

But the point isn’t to then laser focus on the target and eliminate it. The point is that once you are aware, you can’t become unaware. You will retain that awareness. It will be working in your brain on some level, and over time, that might make a difference. Or maybe it won’t! But you’ll at least know, when your queer dude friend says “God, I’m so tired of Chuck Tingle,” that they probably have a compelling reason why, and that reason is worthy of respect.

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