Purity and Danger and Foreskin

Posted by Madam Bubby

 

I was born into a world where baby boys were routinely circumcised, whether they were Jewish or not. Hygienic purposes. (These were also the days when nurses wore caps, which were later deemed to be unhygienic. Go figure.)

These were also the days when women at least in middle class white America were knocked out in order to give birth. Babies were kept in rooms behind windows, often in incubators even if they weren’t under five pounds, held up for viewing like specimens by nurses in crisp white caps. (I am remembering the episode of the birth of Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, which corresponded to Lucille Ball scheduling a caesarian section for the birth of her son, Desi Arnaz, Jr.)

 

Ricky in the hospital waiting room, from I Love Lucy
Ricky in the hospital waiting room (Source)

 

It's like anything that resembled the nitty gritty raw materials of sex and blood and birth and death was hidden, sterilized as much as possible. Dirt was disorder. Sex was dirty unless it produced babies, but giving birth to those babies was a disordered process that required forceps and scalpels and anesthesia to control it, get it out of the realm of actual living.

 

Scalpel

 

And of course any type of sex other than what took place behind closed doors in a missionary position for procreative purposes was generally deemed dirty and disordered. Thus LGBTQ persons themselves were deemed by the general population as irredeemably dirty, unless they could cleanse themselves and rejoin the pristine world of Father Knows Best, itself but an idealized fantasy.

Mary Douglas in her seminal book Purity and Danger explored this primal desire to contain dirt and disorder, like the way we still keep our basic bodily functions of urination and defecation in a toilet which is supposed to be sparkling clean and in a room that is also supposed to be sparkling clean. The toilet itself is an image that contains in itself this fraught tension which informs our attitudes toward sexuality and even to parts of the body that one uses to express that sexuality.

 

Purity and Danger cover
Purity and Danger cover

Scrubbing a toilet

 

Thus, that foreskin had to be brutally cut off, to cleanse, make pure, the member of an appendage would make its appearance and its role sexual act even more exciting, promising deep, dark, rich scents and that pungent but also enticing smegma.

It revealed the mystery in order to contain it. When I experienced sexually a man who was uncut for the first time (in the bathroom, and in the shower, ironically), which could imply he was somehow more complete, even “holy” which word can also mean complete, I experienced mystery. And in that mystery, glory, and by glory, I am thinking of not a vague disembodied entity or feeling in the clouds, but physical reality itself charged with an energy that creates and propels the orgasm but also encompasses it.

 

Images from The U.N.C.U.T. Club of L.A. & Club Mandom 1: Blue Collar Cheese Factory
Images from The U.N.C.U.T. Club of L.A. (top) and Club Mandom 1: Blue Collar Cheese Factory (bottom)

 

His phallus contained on it a boundary, and it’s through crossing boundaries one grows, changes, lives, dies. I could experience at that time a fullness and as I said above, a mystery that transcended the rigid binaries which result from treating sexual, in fact, all human experience as something we have to dissect with scalpels and pull apart with forceps.

I’m not advocating for an end to circumcision, as it is a boundary-crossing, consensual ritual of initiation for males in many cultures, but, significantly, also a source of horrific pain and suffering for so many, especially women and girls who are circumcised in order to completely suppress their sexual desire, eliminate it like it is indeed something dirty and thus disordered. They in essence are forced into becoming objects only defined by what the culture deems as purity, but at the same time depriving them of living as full, complete persons.

Yes, there’s dangerous realities we do need to contain, as a virus plagues the world and we must first try and control it, then eradicate it, by amplifying up to the nth degree our bathroom rituals of cleansing and purifying. But our complicated, messy, exciting and ultimately glorious sexuality can and should become for humans both dangerous and pure, exploding the tension in that binary if only for a moment. A holy moment.

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Who Could Be the Emperor in Centurians of Rome: His Name Is Elagabalus

Michael Flent as the Emperor in Centurians
Michael Flent as the Emperor in Centurians of Rome

When the gay porn epic Centurians of Rome came out in 1981, the publicity proclaimed that the kinky, fisting-loving emperor played to the hilt by Michael Flent was Caligula. At one level, it makes sense, given the overall reputation of Caligula as the ultimate monstre sacree, but after a close viewing, I came up with another theory. Admittedly, the work is fiction, and I highly doubt the creators were specifically trying to place the action and characters in specific historical circumstances, but there are third century A.C.E. parallels.
 

Original poster for Centurians of Rome
Original Original Centurians poster

The emperor Elagabulus, born in 203 A.C.E, was the scion of a dynasty dominated by Syrian women. It's a bit complicated, but let's just say by that time diverse persons in the Empire were able to rise, primarily through the army, to powerful political positions. His father was Sextus Varius Marcellus and his mother was Julia Soemias. His grandmother, the formidable Julia Maesa, was the sister of Julia Domna, and thus the sister-in-law of Septimius Severus, the Roman founder of the dynasty.
 

Bust of Julia Maesa
Julia Maesa

I mention all these women specifically, because, at one point in Centurians of Rome, the Emperor mentions his mother sends him women he is not interested in. This dynasty was run by powerful women on so many levels, and I find this detail telling, and there's more in what we know about Elagabalus that makes this detail, and many others in the movie, even more telling.

Now, Julia Soemias was a cousin of the emperor Caracalla. When Caracalla was assassinated in 217 A.C.E, Macrinus ascended the throne, and he exiled the whole Syrian tribe. But Maesa plotted to regain power, and Soemias made a claim that Elagabalus was the son of Caracalla. After some battles and further plotting, he was proclaimed emperor, as the Senate accepted the claim of parentage.
 

Alma, Tadema, and Heliogabalus

Elagabalus' religious beliefs presented a problem, as he was the hereditary priest (through his mother) of the ancient Syrian mountain god Ilāh hag-Gaba, who was later assimilated into the worship of the sun God Helios and Sol Invictus (the victorious Sun; thus Elagabalus is sometimes referred to as Heliogabalus). The worship of this god apparently required him to circumcise himself (not a Roman custom), but even more significantly, he installed Elagabal as the chief deity.

But, more relevant to this discussion of Centurians of Rome, and I must admit that some of the ancient sources are not exactly reliable (Augustan History contains some Hollywood Babylon-like elements!), Elagabalus' sexual orientation was confusing. He married five women (and divorced them all), including a Vestal Virgin (a huge taboo). But marriage was more of a fluid financial transaction at that time in Rome, and of course one could assume Grandma and Mama were hoping he could produce an heir. He didn't.
 

Elagabalus' entry into Rome

But he supposedly married an athlete called Zoticus (though his prime male companion was a blond chariot driver and bond slave named Hierocles) in a public ceremony in Syria. The historian Cassius Dio claimed he made himself up and whored around in public and in the imperial palace. Some historians have claimed that Elagabalus may have been transgender, as, according to one source, he wanted to somehow equip himself female genitalia and called himself the queen or wife of his main male lover, Hierocles. Note that at the end of Centurians, guess who the Emperor ends up with sexually as he makes him his slave: the blond stud Eric Ryan.
 

Eric Ryan and Michael Flent
Eric Ryan and Michael Flent in Centurians

I see much more parallels, or really resemblances, with the character played by Michael Flent, whose sexual kinks were certainly not “vanilla,” and his almost feminine submission to the hot top George Payne in the fisting scene evokes some of the details mentioned in this admittedly biased account of life in the palace by Cassius Dio:

“Finally, he set aside a room in the palace and there committed his indecencies, always standing nude at the door of the room, as the harlots do, and shaking the curtain which hung from gold rings, while in a soft and melting voice he solicited the passers-by. There were, of course, men who had been specially instructed to play their part. For, as in other matters, so in this business, too, he had numerous agents who sought out those who could best please him by their foulness. He would collect money from his patrons and give himself airs over his gains; he would also dispute with his associates in this shameful occupation, claiming that he had more lovers than they and took in more money.”
 

Michael Flent and George Payne
Michael Flent and George Payne in Centurians

Yes, life in the palace became one decadent orgy which turned a profit. Maybe that's why the government needed that tax money from Octavius and Demetrius (Scorpio and George Payne), and the character of Argus (Eric Ryan) certainly fits in with being one of those agents looking for sex slaves.
 

George Payne and Scorpo
George Payne and Scorpio in Centurians of Rome

Grandma Maesa finally had enough, and she, after some machinations, managed to get Elagabalus and his mother replaced, and the two were eventually assassinated in 222 A.C.E.. His replacement: the indisputably heterosexual Alexander Severus, Elagabalus' cousin, the son of her other daughter, Maemea. Think: backlash, but in this case, the women were still in charge, and Alexander, though he got rid of the Elagabal cult, was religiously tolerant.

I must admit I am an ancient history geek (in the department I teach at, I hold that unofficial title), and hence my attraction to this movie, and I also admit when I was watching it, I thought of the unfortunate and much-maligned Elagabalus. Overall, Elagablaus resembles the Emperor in Centurians more than the wildly cruel and bizarre but ultimately heterosexual Caligula.

Sources: some Wikipedia, and also Will Durant's series The Story of Civilization (Durant was a homophobe, but the series contains everything you need to know about everything, as far as I am concerned, and that's how I first found out about Elagabalus).

We just remastered Centurians of Rome, and the newly restored version is available on DVD and streaming on our Video on Demand site. For more information on the strange backstory of this classic gay porn blockbuster (it was funded by a bank robbery!), read this fascinating blog at The Rialto Report.
 

Centurians cover image
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"Are You Jewish by Hospitalization?" The Origins of Circumcision

 

I am not Jewish by birth (I was by marriage, rather, but that's a long story), but Jewish by hospitalization. During the time period I was born, in the United States, the majority of Gentile baby boys went under the knife, supposedly for hygienic reasons. 


(And unlike Jewish baby boys, I wasn't the focus of a big bris party with tons of deli. Not that I would have remembered anyway. Oh well...) 
 

Rabi eating

Why even circumcise? There's a clear directive in Genesis 17; all male descendants of Abraham on the eight day after birth, require foreskin removal. Thus both Jews and Muslims follow the practice, Muslims because they regard themselves as descendants of Abraham through his first son, Ishmael. 

But though this text, from a source in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) called the “P” or “Priestly” source that concerns itself primarily with rituals and explanations for their origins and practices, seems to imply that the practice began with the ancient Israelites, it actually did not. 

Many of the nations who bordered on Israel practiced it, including the Egyptians, the Moabites, and the Ammonites. The Philistines did not practice it (Judges 14:3 and I Samuel 17:26). Thus, one of the most famous Philistines, the nine-foot tall Goliath, most probably sported a huge uncut cock. 

big uncut cock


The Egyptians waited until puberty to perform the ritual; in that culture and in many other cultures, it was a rite of passage for young men. In Genesis 34, after the rape of their sister Dinah by a Canaanite prince, Jacob's sons insist he be circumcised before he can marry her. (Yes, this story is in the Bible. It's quite shocking on many levels. Check it out.

Based on the Bible, it's not clear if the Israelites originally performed the ritual at puberty; the “P” sources that claim it should be done on infants are rather late. 

 

Before/AFter Circumcision illustration


Some Jewish athletes around the time of the Maccabees (2nd century B.C.E.), actually underwent an incredibly painful procedure to surgically create a foreskin in order to participate in Greek competitions, which meant they would no longer be Jewish. 

St. Paul in Romans 4:1-12, writing a few decades after the life and death of Jesus (a Jew, and thus he was circumcised; see Luke 2:21), claims that Christians don't need to be circumcised like Jews, as their salvation is not contingent on being physically born of a certain people. 

By the way, someone supposedly saved Jesus' foreskin. It is called the Holy Prepuce. (Ew … ) 

 

Painting: Circumcision of Jesus

Yet, as I mentioned above, circumcision became a mainstream medical practice in the United States and in the United Kingdom, especially in the middle twentieth century. Some reasons included: a fear that uncircumcised men would more easily spread venereal disease; the view of childbirth and anything associated with it (including the baby) as the object of a sterile medical procedure that should only occur in a hospital; and a deep-rooted hostility to masturbation (not that being cut precludes one from wanking off). 


Since the 1970s, doctors in the United States have come to realize that removing the foreskin on baby boys is unnecessary, potentially harmful, and possibly unethical, unless some medical emergency or specific condition requires it. 

Check out our titles that feature famous cut and uncut cocks. Cut or uncut, the cock is still a cock. 

 

uncut cock and cut cock

 

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