Horgan is apparently so content to view sexuality as an unfathomable chthonic mystery that he doesn’t even bother to ask a reasonably-intelligent woman who’s turned on by this sort of thing what she thinks about it. And though I’ll never read Taken by the T-Rex or Moan for Bigfoot, that’s not because I’m disgusted by the subject matter; as it turns out, I myself am a reasonably-intelligent woman who’s turned on by this sort of thing. See these illustrations? I’ve got a bunch of ‘em in my art folders. People who played Dungeons & Dragons with me could tell you about some memorable episodes. And remember my mentioning how the movie Gargoyles inspired one of my favorite make-believe scenarios as a kid? Yeah, that. The thing is, anybody who’s read some of my other columns on my own kinks and paid attention to some of the fantasy iconography I’ve featured (dig the cover of my book at upper right) could’ve guessed as much; it’s no surprise when a woman who is turned on by rape, abduction and bondage scenarios is similarly affected when the abductor is some sort of non-human entity. For the record, dinosaurs and the like do nothing for me; it has to be an intelligent monster, like a demon, an astropelagic alien (again, see my book) or a werewolf. In a spoken sequence on Bat Out of Hell, a male character asks a female, “On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?” My friend Philippa used to say that her answer to that was, “Every fucking time.”
When Horgan declares that evolutionary psychology can’t explain monster porn, he indulges in the same narcissism as prohibitionists do when they declare that no woman could choose sex work: “I cannot understand this, therefore it is inexplicable.” But actually, women being turned on by monsters is no odder (vampires, anyone?) than women indulging in transactional sex; however much either or both of them might upset and horrify prudes, they both have their origins in female behavioral scripts going back to the time when the behavior of human men wasn’t much different from that of the monsters in the fantasies.
Maggie McNeill, “Beauty and the Beast”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-04-10
November 27, 2014
November 20, 2014
Tia Ghose discusses some recent findings on the sexual aggression of male chimpanzees and (given that humans are closely related to chimps) looks for parallels in human behaviour:
Male chimpanzees that wage a campaign of sustained aggression against females sire more offspring than their less violent counterparts, new research finds.
The results suggest that such nasty behavior from males evolved because it gave the meanest males a reproductive advantage, said study co-author Ian Gilby, a primatologist at Arizona State University in Phoenix.
This chimpanzee behavior could also provide some insight into the roots of sexual aggression in men.
“It is possible that in our early ancestors there may have been an adaptive value to male aggression against females,” Gilby said.
Though the findings are in chimpanzees, they lend credence to the notion that male sexual aggression in humans may have some genetic or evolutionary basis, Gilby said.
On the other hand, drawing parallels can be perilous. Humans diverged from chimpanzees at least 7 million years ago, and the human mating system looks very different from chimps’ violent, multi-male, multi-female system. Humans form pair bonds and have varied and complex mating strategies and behaviors. And most men aren’t brutes to their partners.
“We definitely don’t mean to say this excuses or fully explains violence in this way in humans,” Gilby said.
The study’s findings may provide fodder for a long-standing debate in evolutionary biology about whether rape and sexual aggression are evolutionarily advantageous in humans, said William McKibbin, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan–Flint, who was not involved in the study. No studies in humans have ever shown that rape increases reproductive success, he added.
November 15, 2014
I wanted to title this post “Have dick, will travel”, but I decided it wasn’t the most dignified way to introduce this topic:
The reason men refuse to ask for directions when lost isn’t down to pig-headed stubbornness, but rather a hard-wired evolutionary instinct which has developed so they can, err, get more sex — say anthropologists.
Students with clipboards from the University of Utah interviewed dozens of members of the Twe and Tjimba tribes in northwest Namibia. They found that men who did better spatial tasks, unsurprisingly, travelled farther — but also had children with more women.
Anthropologist Elizabeth Cashdan said the data supports the hypothesis that men have evolved a greater spatial ability to “benefit reproductively from getting more mates” and “ranging farther is one way they do this.”
Compared with other cognitive differences between the sexes, such as cultural differences in maths skills, the difference in spatial skills is much larger, found the research.
November 14, 2014
In Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown reviews the findings of a recent survey on what kind of kinks are no longer considered weird or unusual (because so many people fantasize about ‘em or are actively partaking of ‘em):
Being sexually dominated. Having sex with multiple people at once. Watching someone undress without their knowledge. These are just a few of the totally normal sexual fantasies uncovered by recent research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. The overarching takeaway from this survey of about 1,500 Canadian adults is that sexual kink is incredibly common.
While plenty of research has been conducted on sexual fetishes, less is known about the prevalence of particular sexual desires that don’t rise to the level of pathological (i.e., don’t harm others or interfere with normal life functioning and aren’t a requisite for getting off). “Our main objective was to specify norms in sexual fantasies,” said lead study author Christian Joyal. “We suspected there are a lot more common fantasies than atypical fantasies.”
Joyal’s team surveyed about 717 Québécois men and 799 women, with a mean age of 30. Participants ranked 55 different sexual fantasies, as well as wrote in their own. Each fantasy was then rated as statistically rare, unusual, common, or typical.
Of course, the statistics also show where men and women differ in some areas:
Notably, men were more likely than women to say they wanted their sexual fantasies to become sexual realities. “Approximately half of women with descriptions of submissive fantasies speciﬁed that they would not want the fantasy to materialize in real life,” the researchers note. “This result conﬁrms the important distinction between sexual fantasies and sexual wishes, which is usually stronger among women than among men.”
The researchers also found a number of write-in “favorite” sexual fantasies that were common among men had no equivalent in women’s fantasies. These included having sex with a trans woman (included in 4.2 percent of write-in fantasies), being on the receiving end of strap-on/non-homosexual anal sex (6.1 percent), and watching a partner have sex with another man (8.4 percent).
Next up, the researchers plan to map subgroups of sexual fantasies that often go together (for instance, those who reported submissive fantasies were also more likely to report domination fantasies, and both were associated with higher levels of overall sexual satisfaction). For now, they caution that “care should be taken before labeling (a sexual fantasy) as unusual, let alone deviant.”
It would be interesting to see the results of this study replicated in other areas — Quebec may or may not be representative of the rest of western society.
November 10, 2014
To sum up: the qualities that arouse the protective instinct are the opposite of those that attract a sex partner.
Protector and protégé are outwardly alike; sex partners are complimentary opposites. Protégés are physically and mentally inferior to their protectors; sex partners are physically and mentally equals. These three sets of qualities, opposite and mutually exclusive, of protégés and sex partners, determine the basic attitudes towards each, also opposite and mutually exclusive. And yet we call these profoundly different emotions by the same name: love. Love has become of necessity, then, the most dangerously misleading word in the language.
Esther Vilar, The Polygamous Sex, 1976.
November 3, 2014
In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf talks to actual UCLA students to find out what they think of the new rules for how they must conduct themselves in intimate situations:
Imagine serving on the campus equivalent of a jury in a sexual-assault case.
The accused testifies, “I thought I was reading all the signals right. Once we started kissing it felt like things progressed naturally, like we were both into it. Neither of us said, ‘Yes, let’s do this,’ but I definitely wanted to hook up. I felt sure we both did.” The accuser says, “I was totally comfortable when we started kissing, but as things progressed I felt more and more uncomfortable. I didn’t say stop or resist, but I didn’t consent to being groped or undressed. I wasn’t asked. I didn’t want that.” If both seem to be telling the truth as they perceive it, what’s the just outcome?
Last week, I spent some time at UCLA asking students about California’s new “affirmative-consent” law. In our conversations, I described the law and asked them whether they supported it or not. I also posted this scenario to them. I was surprised by how common it was for students to express support for the law and then to say a few minutes later that they wouldn’t feel comfortable convicting the accused in that example. But there were also students who opposed affirmative-consent laws and later said that they would find the accused guilty.
That conflict fit with a larger theme that ran through my conversations with undergraduates, from freshmen to seniors. Asked about California’s law, many supporters focused on how affirmative consent squared with their notion of what campus norms, values, and culture ought to be, rather than its effect on disciplinary cases, which they treated as a tangentially related afterthought. Opponents expressed abstract concerns about unjust convictions and due process, yet some felt that convicting the accused in that hypothetical would be just.
In short, forcing both sides to confront a specific scenario made them see a thornier issue than they’d imagined. And it increased the conflicted feelings of many of those who had no definite position.
Polar opposition in the sex-specific areas, then, is combined with resemblance in all other respects. The man will usually be physically stronger than the women, a sex-specific difference that makes them attractive to one another. But as soon as this difference becomes too great — as soon as the woman is so weak, or pretends to be so weak, that the physical difference can no longer be regarded as sex-specific — the stronger partner’s protective instinct may seriously interfere with his sex instinct. He may refrain from sex in order not to hurt his partner. If, in addition to being physically inferior, she is also mentally inferior, the weaker partner tends to become increasingly the object of his protection. The sex act — normally a kind of combat at close quarters — under such conditions involves considerable self-restraint, and loses something essential in the process. Equality on the intellectual level, combined with polarity on the physical, is therefore a condition sine qua non of full-scale love between a man and a woman.
A good guarantee for the necessary resemblance of the partners in the nonsexual realm is their belonging to the same generation. By a generation we mean the time span between the birth of an individual and the birth of its first offspring — about twenty to twenty five years. Sexuality is in any case for adults, but if one partner is more than twenty five years older than the other, and thereby belongs to the generation of the other’s grandparents, the chances for a mutually satisfactory sexual relationship are relatively poor. There are of course cases in which a particular person’s special dynamism can bridge this biological gap for a time, but such exceptions only confirm the rule. The frequent alliances between young women and men who are their seniors by more than a generation are no proof to the contrary; they always depend on the same factor: the wealth or social status of the much older man. If it were a biological mechanism that drove attractive young females into the arms of old men, a poor old pensioner might occasionally have a chance of marrying a rich young girl.
Esther Vilar, The Polygamous Sex, 1976.
October 20, 2014
Our sexual differences can be more or less general, or more or less individual i.e. they may be typical for the whole sex or for only an individual member of that sex. Men with a vigorous growth of beard, hairy chests broad shoulders narrow hips, big penises, for example, are generally more in demand as are, conversely, women with delicate skin, big breasts, wide hips. The more individual polarity exists in any given case, the more ideal the sexual relationship is likely to become. We all do what we can to emphasize our sexual differentiation from the opposite sex — or with respect to a specific member of the opposite sex — as skillfully as possible. Whoever is not strikingly male or female will do everything possible to seem so by, for example, developing his biceps through gymnastics, pad her bra, style the hairdo, etc.
The same motivation also underlies the so-called ‘typically masculine’ and ‘typically feminine’ kinds of behavior: it is always a conscious or unconscious parading of sex-specific characteristics. To smile rarely or often, talk much or little, swing the hips or not in walking, makes people ‘more manly’ or ‘more womanly.’ This kind of behavior is simulated, as shown by the fact that it is subject to fashion and can be dropped at will. The ‘womanly’ mannerisms of the stars in the old movies are markedly different from those we see in films by Truffault or Godard. To behave like a movie vamp of the twenties today is to appear not womanly but ridiculous.
Esther Vilar, The Polygamous Sex, 1976.
October 1, 2014
In Time, Camille Paglia says that universities are unable to understand the real risks to young women on campus:
The gender ideology dominating academe denies that sex differences are rooted in biology and sees them instead as malleable fictions that can be revised at will. The assumption is that complaints and protests, enforced by sympathetic campus bureaucrats and government regulators, can and will fundamentally alter all men.
But extreme sex crimes like rape-murder emanate from a primitive level that even practical psychology no longer has a language for. Psychopathology, as in Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s grisly Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), was a central field in early psychoanalysis. But today’s therapy has morphed into happy talk, attitude adjustments, and pharmaceutical shortcuts.
There is a ritualistic symbolism at work in sex crime that most women do not grasp and therefore cannot arm themselves against. It is well-established that the visual faculties play a bigger role in male sexuality, which accounts for the greater male interest in pornography. The sexual stalker, who is often an alienated loser consumed with his own failures, is motivated by an atavistic hunting reflex. He is called a predator precisely because he turns his victims into prey.
Sex crime springs from fantasy, hallucination, delusion, and obsession. A random young woman becomes the scapegoat for a regressive rage against female sexual power: “You made me do this.” Academic clichés about the “commodification” of women under capitalism make little sense here: It is women’s superior biological status as magical life-creator that is profaned and annihilated by the barbarism of sex crime.
September 18, 2014
Hans Bader on how Rush Limbaugh is a constant gift to his enemies … almost a Rob Ford of US political commentary:
Rush Limbaugh can take a winning issue for conservatives and turn it into a loser just by shooting his mouth off. He gives advocates of extreme left-wing policies ammunition for their views by making stupid arguments when smarter arguments exist, and by lacing his arguments with sexism or scurrilous remarks. He did it recently in response to my commentary about Ohio State University’s ridiculously overbroad and intrusive “sexual assault” definition — which seemingly requires students to agree on “why” they are having sex or making out, which is none of the university’s business. And he did it in 2012, when his scurrilous remarks about contraceptive advocate Sandra Fluke being a “slut” and a “prostitute” drove even moderate liberals to support a contraceptive mandate on religious employers that they had earlier opposed (and which the Supreme Court later ruled 5-to-4 violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.)
But instead of focusing on that in his criticism of Ohio State’s policy, Limbaugh changed the subject to asking whether “no” really means “no,” saying “How many of you guys in your own experience with women have learned that no means yes, if you know how to spot it?” He then temporarily backed away from this remark by saying, “Let me tell you something, in this modern world, that’s simply…that’s not tolerated.” But then he returned to the inflammatory subject of “no” supposedly not meaning “no” by saying “It used to be that it was a cliché. It used to be part of the advice young boys were given.”
Liberal blogs like Think Progress, and newspaper blogs had a field day making fun of his comments questioning whether no means no, and using them to imply that the only reason anybody would ever oppose requiring “affirmative consent” is because they are a misogynistic troll like Limbaugh. In response, a columnist at a major midwestern newspaper endorsed the policy as supposedly being “smart” in light of the need to educate people like Limbaugh about consent. (Never mind that Limbaugh is not a college student, and it’s hard to imagine many college students sharing his ancient views.)
As a result, all of my efforts were undone, by a factor of ten. Overnight, a policy that seemed extreme even to liberals I discussed it with became embraced by many liberal commenters at these blogs, partly out of a desire to spite the hateful Limbaugh. It is being used to depict critics of the extreme policy as themselves being extreme.
September 13, 2014
US colleges and universities are struggling to come up with new and innovative ways of regulating how their students interact in intimate situations. Ohio State University, for example, now requires that students who engage in sexual relations must agree on why they want to have sex to avoid the risk of sexual assault charges being brought:
At Ohio State University, to avoid being guilty of “sexual assault” or “sexual violence,” you and your partner now apparently have to agree on the reason WHY you are making out or having sex. It’s not enough to agree to DO it, you have to agree on WHY: there has to be agreement “regarding the who, what, where, when, why, and how this sexual activity will take place.”
There used to be a joke that women need a reason to have sex, while men only need a place. Does this policy reflect that juvenile mindset? Such a requirement baffles some women in the real world: a female member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights told me, “I am still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of any two intimates in the world agreeing as to ‘why.’”
Ohio State’s sexual-assault policy, which effectively turns some welcome touching into “sexual assault,” may be the product of its recent Resolution Agreement with the Office for Civil Rights (where I used to work) to resolve a Title IX complaint over its procedures for handling cases of sexual harassment and assault. That agreement, on page 6, requires the University to “provide consistent definitions of and guidance about the University terms ‘sexual harassment,’ ‘consent,’ ‘sexual violence,’ ‘sexual assault,’ and ‘sexual misconduct.’” It is possible that Ohio State will broaden its already overbroad “sexual assault” definition even further: Some officials at Ohio State, like its Student Wellness Center, advocate defining all sex or “kissing” without “verbal,” “enthusiastic” consent as “sexual assault.”
Ohio State applies an impractical “agreement” requirement to not just sex, but also to a much broader category of “touching” that is sexual (or perhaps romantic?) in nature. First, it states that “sexual assault is any form of non-consensual sexual activity. Sexual assault includes all unwanted sexual acts from intimidation to touching to various forms of penetration and rape.” Then, it states that “Consent is a knowing and voluntary verbal or non-verbal agreement between both parties to participate in each and every sexual act … Conduct will be considered “non-consensual” if no clear consent … is given … Effective consent can be given by words or actions so long as the words or actions create a mutual understanding between both parties regarding the conditions of the sexual activity–ask, ‘do both of us understand and agree regarding the who, what, where, when, why, and how this sexual activity will take place?’”
Advice to college guys: avoid all college women. If you want to have sex, go to a prostitute and get a receipt. http://t.co/sh9voKuJ9L
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) September 13, 2014
July 10, 2014
Lindsay Leigh Bentley contrasts her own “tomboy” childhood with that of Ryland, who was born female but whose parents have transitioned her (at age 5):
I have no degree in early childhood development, nor have I studied psychology. I didn’t even graduate from College.
I am also not here to pass judgement on Ryland’s parents. I believe that they are doing what they believe to be the most loving thing for their child. I’m simply sharing my story because I see so much of my 5-year-old self in this child.
I was born the second daughter to two loving, amazing, supportive parents. They would go on to have 2 more daughters. The four of us couldn’t be more different, even down to our hair and eye color. Our parents embraced our differences and allowed us to grow as individuals, not concerned with the social “norms” for girls. I often joke that I was the boy my dad never had. My dad is a free spirit, 100% unconcerned with what people think of him, and he thought nothing of “out of the box” behavior. I function more as a firstborn than a second born (however, this does not make me the firstborn, amiright?)
I wanted to be a boy. Desperately wanted to be a boy. I thought boys had more fun. I felt like a boy in the way that our society views genders. I liked blue and green more than pink and purple. I remember sitting up as high as I could climb in our huge mulberry tree, bow & arrow in hand, trying to kiss my elbow (a neighbor lady had told me that if I could accomplish this, that I would turn into a boy, which was what I wanted in that moment, as a child, more than anything.)
Thankfully, my parents didn’t adhere to the archaic stereotypes that “boys like blue” and “girls like pink;” that “boys play with dinosaurs, and girls play with dolls.” Had they told me that liking these things made me a boy, I would have concluded that I was a boy.
They just let me be me. They let me be a girl who wore jeans more often than skirts. They let me play with slingshots rather than princess wands. They didn’t conclude that I was gay, or transgender. They didn’t put me in a box that would shape my future, at the expense of my own free will.
July 3, 2014
In the Guardian, Faramerz Dabhoiwala reviews a recent “discovery” that Jeremy Bentham, far from being an innocent about sexual matters (as portrayed by his disciple John Stuart Mill among others), had thought deeply on the topic and had written much. After his death, these writings were ignored for fear that they would discredit his wider body of work.
Bodily passion was not just a part of Bentham’s life: it was fundamental to his thought. After all, the maximisation of pleasure was the central aim of utilitarian ethics. In place of the traditional Christian stress on bodily restraint and discipline, Bentham sought, like many other 18th-century philosophers, to promote the benefits of economic consumption, the enjoyment of worldly appetites and the liberty of natural passions. This modern, enlightened view of the purpose of life spawned a revolution in sexual attitudes, and no European scholar of the time pursued its implications as thoroughly as Bentham. To think about sex, he noted in 1785, was to consider “the greatest, and perhaps the only real pleasures of mankind”: it must therefore be “the subject of greatest interest to mortal men”. Throughout his adult life, from the 1770s to the 1820s, he returned again and again to the topic. Over many hundreds of pages of private notes and treatises, he tried to strip away all the irrational and religious prohibitions that surrounded sexual activity.
Of all enjoyments, Bentham reasoned, sex was the most universal, the most easily accessible, the most intense, and the most copious — nothing was more conducive to happiness. An “all-comprehensive liberty for all modes of sexual gratification” would therefore be a huge, permanent benefit to humankind: if consenting adults were freed to do whatever they liked with their own bodies, “what calculation shall compute the aggregate mass of pleasure that may be brought into existence?”
The main impetus for Bentham’s obsession with sexual freedom was his society’s harsh persecution of homosexual men. Since about 1700, the increasing permissiveness towards what was seen as “natural” sex had led to a sharpened abhorrence across the western world of supposedly “unnatural” acts. Throughout Bentham’s lifetime, homosexuals were regularly executed in England, or had their lives ruined by the pillory, exile or public disgrace. He was appalled at this horrible prejudice. Sodomy, he argued, was not just harmless but evidently pleasurable to its participants. The mere fact that the custom was abhorrent to the majority of the community no more justified the persecution of sodomites than it did the killing of Jews, heretics, smokers, or people who ate oysters — “to destroy a man there should certainly be some better reason than mere dislike to his Taste, let that dislike be ever so strong”.
Though ultimately he never published his detailed arguments for sexual liberty for fear of the odium they would bring on his general philosophy, Bentham felt compelled to think them through in detail, to write about them repeatedly and to discuss them with his acquaintances. In one surviving letter to a friend, he joked that his rereading of the Bible had finally revealed that the sin for which God had punished the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah was not in fact buggery, but the taking of snuff. He and his secretary had consequently taken a solemn oath to hide their snuff-pouches and nevermore to indulge “that anti-Christian and really unnatural practice” in front of one another. Meanwhile, they were now both happily free to enjoy “the liberty of taking in the churchyard or in the market place, or in any more or less public or retired spot with Man, Woman or Beast, the amusement till now supposed to be so unrighteous, but now discovered to be a matter of indifference”. Among those with whom Bentham discussed his arguments for sexual toleration were such influential thinkers and activists as William Godwin, Francis Place and James Mill (John Stuart Mill’s father). Bentham’s ultimate hope, “for the sake of the interests of humanity”, was that his private elaboration and advocacy of these views might contribute to their eventual free discussion and general acceptance. “At any rate,” he once explained, even if his writings could not be published in his own lifetime, “when I am dead mankind will be the better for it”.
The coalition of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans* people has a problem: the big tent approach requires that they acknowledge the members of their coalition more directly, leading to a situation where they’ve “had to start using Sanskrit because we’ve run out of letters.”
“We have absolutely nothing in common with gay men,” says Eda, a young lesbian, “so I have no idea why we are lumped in together.”
Not everyone agrees. Since the late 1980s, lesbians and gay men have been treated almost as one generic group. In recent years, other sexual minorities and preferences have joined them.
The term LGBT, representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, has been in widespread use since the early 1990s. Recent additions — queer, “questioning” and intersex — have seen the term expand to LGBTQQI in many places. But do lesbians and gay men, let alone the others on the list, share the same issues, values and goals?
Anthony Lorenzo, a young gay journalist, says the list has become so long, “We’ve had to start using Sanskrit because we’ve run out of letters.”
Bisexuals have argued that they are disliked and mistrusted by both straight and gay people. Trans people say they should be included because they experience hatred and discrimination, and thereby are campaigning along similar lines as the gay community for equality.
But what about those who wish to add asexual to the pot? Are asexual people facing the same category of discrimination. And “polyamorous”? Would it end at LGBTQQIAP?
There is scepticism from some activists. Paul Burston, long-time gay rights campaigner, suggests that one could even take a longer formulation and add NQBHTHOWTB (Not Queer But Happy To Help Out When They’re Busy). Or it could be shortened to GLW (Gay, Lesbian or Whatever).
An event in Canada is currently advertising itself as an “annual festival of LGBTTIQQ2SA culture and human rights”, with LGBTTIQQ2SA representing “a broad array of identities such as, but not limited to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, two-spirited, and allies”. Two-spirited is a term used by Native Americans to describe more than one gender identity.
Note that once you go down the rabbit hole of ever-expanding naming practices for ever-more-finely-divided groups you end up with the 58 gender choices of Facebook and instant demands to add a 59th, 60th, and 61st choice or else you’re being offensively exclusive to those who can’t identify with the first 58 choices. I’d bet that one of the criticisms Julie Bindel will face for this article is that she uses the hateful, out-dated, and offensive terms “transsexual” and “transgender” when everyone knows the “correct” term is now “Trans*” (perhaps deliberately chosen to ensure that you can’t successfully Google it).
June 26, 2014
In the Washington Post, Michael Dirda reviews the second (and final) volume of William Patterson’s Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century.
Robert Anson Heinlein (1907-1988) possessed an astonishing gift for fast-paced narrative, an exceptionally engaging voice and a willingness to boldly go where no writer had gone before. In “— All You Zombies—” a transgendered time traveler impregnates his younger self and thus becomes his own father and mother. The protagonist of Tunnel in the Sky is black, and the action contains hints of interracial sex, not the usual thing in a 1955 young adult book. While Starship Troopers (1959) championed the military virtues of service and sacrifice, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) became a bible for the flower generation, blurring sex and religion and launching the vogue word “grok.”
Heinlein’s finest work in the short story was produced in the late 1930s and early ’40s, mainly for the legendary editor of Astounding, John W. Campbell. But by 1948, when this volume opens, “The Roads Must Roll,” “By His Bootstraps, “Gulf” and “Requiem” are behind him. The onetime pulp writer has broken into the Saturday Evening Post and Boy’s Life, married his third (and last) wife, Virginia, and settled in Colorado Springs, where he designs and builds a state-of-the-art automated house. Apart from his occasional involvement with Hollywood, as in scripting Destination Moon, he will devote the rest of his career mainly to novels.
Like his fascinating but long-winded first volume, the second half of Patterson’s biography is difficult to judge fairly. Packed with facts both trivial and significant, relying heavily on the possibly skewed memories of the author’s widow, and utterly reverent throughout, volume two emphasizes Heinlein the husband, traveler, independent businessman and political activist. Above all, the book celebrates the intense civilization of two that Heinlein and his wife created. There is almost nothing in the way of literary comment or criticism.
Though Heinlein can do no wrong in his biographer’s eyes, if you use yours to look in Patterson’s voluminous endnotes, you will occasionally find confirmation that the writer could be casually cruel as well as admirably generous, at once true to his beliefs and unpleasantly narrow-minded and inflexible about them. Today we would call Heinlein’s convictions libertarian, his personal philosophy grounded in absolute freedom, individual responsibility and an almost religiously inflected patriotism. Heinlein could thus be a confirmed nudist and member of several Sunshine Clubs as well as a grass-roots Barry Goldwater Republican.
For the record, I loved this volume even more than I loved the first one. But Dirda’s comments are fair: Patterson worked hard to present Heinlein in as positive a light as possible, so it’s not unreasonable to suspect that the great man’s character quirks could make him difficult and awkward to deal with at times (to be kind). In the last post, I talked about the adolescent Heinlein as being “probably a pretty toxic individual” and that aspect of his character can still be discerned in the recounting of his later years.