Jack’s Naughty Bits: Dennis Cooper, Guide

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Jack's Naughty Bits

are a pervert. Or at least society tells you that you are. If acted upon, your sexual desires would take you outside the bounds of decorous behavior — and probably outside the law. All this you know too well. So what do you do? Therapy is expensive, inexact and often humiliating. Telling a perfect stranger that you dream about fucking teenage boys and murdering them afterwards, for example, is probably not an easy thing to do. Nor is shelling out ninety clams for forty minute chat sessions five times a week. So what are your alternatives? Well, like anything in the world, you can either do it or you can write about it. The former route is likely to put more meals on your table (and get you a free black and white jumpsuit), but the latter is truer to the all-important distinction between thought and action. And therein lies the pull of much fantasy: the very fact that the images constructed will never be real, the dream never acted upon. Few critics of pornography manage to grasp this point: that, in some circumstances, it is the irreality of events portrayed that makes porn enticing. In the simplest example, I would never willingly treat a woman as badly in reality as in some porn depictions, but it is nonetheless stimulating to imagine a sexual object that you had no ethical or personal concern for. This part of myself I can’t deny. Nor can I deny that I would never act on that stimulus; my sense of humanity and compassion would eliminate any pleasure that could be derived. And thus fantasy enters in, for in my imagination I can stage scenes and exploit their interest, yet not victimize anyone directly. Fantasy scratches the amorality of our imaginations against the morality of our beliefs. The friction is its appeal.


All this is good to keep in mind when reading Dennis Cooper novels. For the fuck and murder fantasy is common in his books in a variety of forms, yet you also detect a love and appreciation running through them (he reads like a sympathetic Bret Easton Ellis, if such a thing is imaginable). So when he told me, as part of this month’s New Gay Voices guest edit, that his latest novel, Guide, is his favorite, I considered excerpting some of its fantastic lines on ass-worship (“Junkies’ asses are perfect, partly because they’re so scrawny and, at the same time, being so constipated, such weird treasure chests”), or on young men (“You’re like cream in the shape of a boy”), or on the dwarf porn star (no description necessary), but I decided on a scene that enacts the fantasy dynamic I’ve been describing in all of its complexity. Cooper’s protagonist, conveniently named Dennis, is trying to save a young HIV-positive junky/hustler who he’s doing an article on for Spin. The kid’s name is Sniffles, and, as it turns out, he likes to be smacked around, but at the same time likes older men and wants a loving father figure. And thus the fantasy: of fulfilling both roles, of not forcing violence on the boy but having him ask for it, of weaving pain into an act of compassion in the same way that murder can be seen as a kind of deliverance. This is clearly the raw material of Cooper’s libido, and unlikely to be realized. But it’s also the stuff of which the contemporary novel is made.

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From Guide by Dennis Cooper

Sniffles stares out the windshield for several minutes, watching neighborhoods change into other kinds of neighborhoods. I guess they’re gentrifying the closer we get to my own. I never think about things like that. “So you’re into kissing,” he says without looking at me.


“I didn’t say that.”


Sniffles checks me out, his eyes charged with a thought that I’m far too excited about to begin to decode. “I don’t know,” he says. “That’s sort of the one thing I’m really not into.” Then he cringes, like he’s sure I’ll say no.


“How’s about this,” I say. “No kissing, but anything else is okay, and I’ll give you . . . I don’t know, five hundred dollars, if it’s really amazing.”


Sniffle’s eyes freak. They practically electrocute me, the road ahead, his own crotch. “Shit, yeah,” he shouts. “Whatever you want to do. That’s . . . wow.” He slides low in the seat, rests his Docs on the dashboard, and starts pounding out a rhythm on his knees. “Are you rich? Because you don’t seem rich.”


“No. I’m just spending Spin’s expense account.”


“Great scam.”


“I guess.”


“So when you say ‘amazing,’ what do you mean?”


“Well, you’re amazing.”


He smiles cautiously. “I’m your type.”




“That’s cool,” he says. He thinks for a second. “Yeah, that’s really cool. I like you too. I have a thing for older guys. And I sort of like being told what to do. During sex, I mean, not in my life.”


“Lucky me.”


Sniffles studies my eyes. “So what’s your thing? You want to fuck me without a condom? I mean, that’s no problem, if you want to.”


“No, no. God, you shouldn’t do that.”


“Yeah, I know.” Sniffles grins. “Oh, I know what you’re thinking.”




Sniffles stifles the grin, but it’s still there, just stunted. “You want to hit me.”


“Actually, I wasn’t — ” But now that he mentions it. Well, not “hit.” That’s not a word I would use. I might have said “rough.” “Rough” sounds more . . . something.


“You can tell I’m into that, right?” Sniffles says. “Johns always know. They never even ask, they just start whaling on me.”


I picture that scene for a few seconds. “Yeah, I could tell.” Like Sniffles says, I’m weird.


“Wacky.” He fixes his eyes on something far beyond the windshield. “I don’t know why, but I love when guys hit me. I guess it’s because of my dad or whatever. It’s like my favorite fucking thing in the world.”


“Lucky me,” I say.


Sniffles’s eyes search mine. “Cool, yeah. Listen, is there any possibility . . . ” he says, smiling, ” . . . that we could . . . have a relationship?”


“You mean, like boyfriends.”


“Not the normal, boring kind of boyfriends. I mean, because I’m in love with David, you know? I just mean . . . not like a sugar daddy or anything. Maybe sort of like a father-figure type who’ll beat the shit out of me when I’m feeling fucked up. That’s sort of a huge fantasy.”


“It’s possible.” I guess it is, although very remotely. Anyway, we’re home. “That’s the place.” And I point.