“I always hated penises.”
Last week, comedian Louis C.K. released his latest Netflix special, “Louis C.K. 2017,” and he spends nearly 20 percent of it talking about how much he hates penises.
The segment begins with Louis C.K. talking about how much he loves the film “Magic Mike.” He finds Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum so attractive that he can’t bring himself to finish watching the film. “I don’t want to see the end of ‘Magic Mike,’” he says. “I know what the end of ‘Magic Mike’ is. I’m pretty sure that the end of ‘Magic Mike’ is that I’m gay.”
Louis C.K. doesn’t want this to happen. “I don’t like dicks,” he explains, “That’s why I’m not gay. That really is the reason. I hate dicks. Penises are very disgusting to me.”
He goes on to explain that while he would “never dream of” discriminating against gay men, “I have every right to oppress and discriminate against my own possible budding homosexuality.”
Self-shaming isn’t new to Louis C.K.’s comedy, or to comedy in general, but when straight men proudly “discriminate” against their own sexuality and genitalia, it can have dangerous external consequences.
One of misogyny’s oldest tropes is that of the slut-shaming sex addict; the man who calls a woman a “whore” while unbuttoning his jeans. Essentially, this rhetoric is an exertion of control over dick-loving people, whereby they are desired for the sex act while being simultaneously derided for participating. Where does this oppressive double-standard come from? I’d argue that it starts with hating dicks.
A recent Medium article suggested that a lot of the shame that women in heterosexual relationships feel is actually the projection of their partner’s own internalized shame. Men who feel shameful about their bodies or their sexuality place the burden of that shame onto their female partners. This can happen casually. By saying, “You’re really hot,” rather than, “I’m really attracted to you,” the man relinquishes responsibility for his own sexual feeling and places the responsibility for his attraction onto the woman. And if dicks are “disgusting,” what does that make the people who like them? When the male body becomes repulsive, it becomes very easy to look down on — and even oppress — those who enjoy it.
Louis C.K.’s bit takes a complicated turn. “I don’t like dicks,” he reiterates. “That’s why I’m not gay.” But he continues. “Men are fine. I’d like to have a boyfriend. That would be nice. I would! Every time I hear somebody say ‘My boyfriend,’ I’m like, ‘I want a boyfriend.’ Why can’t I have a boyfriend?”
Louis C.K. then imagines a tall man whose sweatshirt he can borrow wrapping his arms around him from behind. He likes this image.
“I know that would be nice. But in order to get all those parts, you have to get a fucking cock shoved up your asshole.” He begins uppercutting furiously. “Like a hard dick ramming in your ass.”
Of course, this isn’t true. Gay relationships aren’t dependent on anal sex, or sex at all, but by framing his attraction to men as being inhibited wholesale by male genitalia, Louis C.K. at once reinforces stereotypes about queer sex and avoids confronting the complexity of his own sexuality. Sexuality without complexity in turn reinforces a damaging and oppressive binary of acceptable sexual identities.
He externalizes his own self-loathing by explaining, “I’m only gay for the best. I’m top shelf gay. I’m not retail gay. I’m not gonna go to JC Penny’s and suck a bunch of dicks.” The JC Penny dicks (which is to say, any dicks not belonging to Matthew McConaughey or Channing Tatum) would, of course, include his own.
Louis C.K. is able to be a tourist in queerness for the sake of comedy, but dick-loving men don’t have that luxury. What for him is edgy is, for many people, simply reality. JC Penny dicks are the majority of dicks being sucked.
Positive body images are difficult to cultivate and maintain and it’s easy to see why this kind of self-loathing is so prevalent: It has social value. Our society privileges men who hate dicks. It rewards men who hate dicks. Not hating dicks can, in many cases, get you harassed, assaulted, or killed. Not only does our society reward hating dicks, it rewards precisely the kind of repression and self-discrimination that Louis C.K. describes. If you hate your own sexuality, you’ve done society’s work in advance.
Straight men need to be careful when talking about dicks. When penises go from “unattractive” to “disgusting,” something nefarious begins to happen. What at first glance reads as funny self-deprecation actually reinforces dangerous misogyny and homophobia. Self-loathing is easily weaponized and it can quickly become a powerful tool of oppression. If straight men cannot confront their own bodies and sexuality with openness rather than disgust, it is not they who will pay for it.