If I really do learn something new every day, one day of the week I learn something new from Savage Love. This week, Dan Savage received a letter from a young woman who was tickled pink to discover that she is a "cuckquean".
"Cuckquean" is not a neologism and it was not the coinage of nineteenth-century psychoanalysis, like so many other fetishes. In fact, cuckold and cuckquean are sixteenth-century terms. A cuckold, traditionally, is a man who has been "given horns" by his wife- that is, it is well-known, especially by him, that his wife takes other lovers. A cuckold is a dupe of some sort. He is considered sexually "inadequate", unable to fully "please" his wife; although given the fact that females are sexually superior to males in most physiological terms, it's hard to imagine what that could mean in actuality. At any rate, a cuckquean is simply a female cuckold. Susie Bright has used the term for women who are unhappily married to closeted gay men. Again, in classical terminology, this is supposed to be a source of shame.
In the fetish taxonomy, a cuckold is a submissive husband who takes pleasure in the fact that his wife takes other lovers with the "humiliation" of this being part of their sex life. There is an aspect of female dominance to all of this, and I believe it's understood that cuckolds don't take their own lovers. Even more confusing is the fact that so much cuckold literature stresses the husband's knowledge that, as the Urban Dictionary memorably puts it, "his wife's pussy is her solely property". But, as joint custody of bodily organs is still impossible, it's hard to figure what this could mean either. At any rate, in the fetish taxonomy, a cuckquean would be a woman who is sexually aroused by her mate taking other lovers, but who does not do so herself.
In the letter to Savage Love, it wasn't clear to me that the young woman was a cuckquean anyway. It seems that people are very quick to classify themselves and experience classification as a sort of relief. Well, at least, now I know what support group to join! However, the woman simply said that she was turned on by watching her boyfriend have sex with other women. I'm not sure why that requires humiliation, a new sexual identity, coming out as a cuckquean, and all the rest of it. I'd assume that most people would be turned on watching their partner have sex with another person.
Okay, I realize that this is not exactly a majority opinion. And, admittedly, I am polymorphously perverse and neither jealous or submissive; but it seems to me that watching your mate fuck another person is just objectively "hot", if only because you can see a number of things that you can't while having sex with them yourself. I'm not sure it has anything to do with humiliation or sexual identity; it's just really sexy. In the case of cuckolds, I'd imagine that it might have more to do with bisexuality than any of them would like to admit; but then again, I've read too much Jung, so I think everyone is bisexual (or an alchemist!). But, aside from scat, pedophilia, and necrophilia, most "fetishes" just strike me as activities that are objectively arousing, and I don't really understand the need to fit ourselves into these narrow little boxes of "sexual identity" in order to control them. I would imagine that if people were more geared towards their own sexual arousal, and less geared towards patrolling the waters of sex and partnership, this would be a given.
So, this week I learned the term "cuckquean", another term in the sprawling glossary of sexual fetishes. I am endlessly amazed at the modern sexual taxonomy: every possible dirty thought that one might have has been discovered, classified, labelled, ritualized, and made constituent of somebody's identity, if not the subject of a support group or political action committee. One suspects that this glossomania is supposed to neutralize the irrational and chaotic nature of sexuality and the subconscious. If we can classify it, we can control it. It's interesting that the taxonomic urge actually comes from the fetishists and is not imposed from outside: we all want to belong to a genus of some sort.
But, in some ways, this depresses me too. I'd imagine it is akin to the sadness some felt when the last corners of the globe were charted and mapped. There are no uncharted realms of the subconscious. Where does one hide when every spot has surveillance?
Once upon a time, the fetish taxonomy was the work of the psychological/medical establishment. There the objective often really was control, and the state sometimes relied on the "expert opinion" of psychologists to justify police actions against homosexuals and other "sexual inverts". Some historians have argued that sexual activities have always existed, but that sexual identity as we understand it is the creation of the state. For example, there were always homosexual acts, but no homosexual beings until the nineteenth century and the Enlightenment.
This is profoundly ahistorical though and ignores a wealth of information about how people have always classified themselves based on their sexual tastes and peccadilloes. Humans are social animals and prefer to group off into ridiculously narrow interests. One could, of course, see the ongoing need to explain ourselves in taxonomic means as proof of the internalization of control- psychoanalysis is dead, but we can't kill the psychoanalyst within. However, I suspect that it predates the state, the medical establishment, and any other sort of external control.
Humans seem to have an enduring need to explain themselves, and to put their often-irrational and meaningless behavior within some sort of vast integrity. I think we've always seen people fashioning self-narratives along a basic formula of "I behave this way because I am a _____". In one century, it might be, "I behave this way because I am one of the spiritual elect", or "I behave this way because I am a Jansenist". In another, "I behave this way because I am an Italian!", or "I behave this way because I am a Euro-Caucasian". Aside from some pockets of ethnicity, religion and nationality have lost all of their explanatory potential, and psychology rushes in to fill the void. "I behave this way because I am a moderately autistic, bisexual, submissive cuckold with OCD!"
Of course, it's not possible to step into the same sexual stream twice. Our behavior is fluid and changing and chaotic, and constantly makes jail-breaks from the sorry narratives that we try to trap it inside. Most "identities" don't really work and perhaps one of the benefits of living when we do is that we can try on identities and abandon them willy-nilly. It would be boring to wear the same pair of pants every day. And all we have to lose is our sense of stability.
In the end, I can't top Margaret Cho on this one. Of her own sexual chaos, she says: "And I went through this whole thing, you know. I was like: Am I gay? Am I straight? And I realized I'm just slutty.
Where's my parade?"