The name of a recently released, immediately viral video certainly piques a combination of one’s grammatical and pornographic curiosities: “Lesbians Touch Penis For the First Time!” Surely you’ve heard of it.The lack of an article between “lesbians” and “penis” is, alone, enticing, for the crassness it lends an otherwise utilitarian, sonically unsexy word. It’s reminiscent both of a breaking news headline and of Internet pornography with copy written by a bot that has a poor grip on sexy diction.
It’s easy, from this alone, to see why something as inane as a series of (potentially illusorily) “lesbian women” fondling an obstructed “penis” while describing it in figurative language would provoke clicks — clicking is perhaps one of the easiest, most id-fueled action known to humans. But there’s clearly something to it beyond mere grammatical titillation: as Slate likewise points out, like most “for the first time” videos, it’s the notion that these things sound mismatched that’s compelling — that PENIS is to LESBIAN as water is to wicked witch. What will they do?! Will they survive the penis touch?! Phew, they walk away unscathed, but changed. The video is a totally unworthy-of-attention piece of throwaway Internet fluff. So why are people so amused? Why was it picked up as uncritical clickbait by so many publications?
The video is of course targeted solely toward viralness, albeit in the guise of LGBT in-joking (it even comes from the minds of a lesbian couple, BriaAndChrissy!). But it’s a form of in-joking that seems like it’s pandering to a straight person’s perception of gay people’s personal limits, as dictated by TV shows they may have watched in the ’90s, rather than genuinely representing them. Viral-aiming videos are interested in pithy dichotomies and generalizations because, of course, they fit into very consumable boxes. It’s in their best interest to delineate harshly along gay/lesbian lines: binaries of attraction and repulsion are easy to sum up.
The fact that the video (along with its significantly less popular companion piece, “Gay Men Touch Boobs for the First Time!”) was made by a lesbian couple doesn’t matter so much as it matters that it was so quickly and uncritically picked up by the media at large — and certainly not just queer websites. The video’s garnering of over 11 million views in the blink of a fondled urethra is suggestive of a continued childish cultural preoccupation with genitalia-specific notions of the “lesbian” and “gay” binary.
The viewer somehow infantilizes both themselves and the participants as they giggle at people performing to the presupposition that they’ll do something craaaazy when they touch a dick. If it functions as an LGBT in-joke, it’s a weak one, and for everyone else, it’s pretty othering.
Obviously these videos themselves aren’t attempting to represent an entire population — or to represent anything outside of the lowest common denominator for clicking — but the cultural enthusiasm for them reveals a larger assumption about gayness: that it’s predicated on the genital rather than the social. While for many this is partially the case, this generalization excludes trans people who identify as gay or lesbian entirely. It assumes that the gay or lesbian experience is founded on “born this way” aversions rather than trial and error, choice, or even somewhat fluid preference. There’s no room for the spectrum in this pocket-sized, uncomfortably crass (which can be great, unless it’s also uncomfortably stupid) display of lesbianness in negative.
“Gay” and “lesbian” alone are functional labels that, at their best, help people identify potential partners in marginal communities, and at their worst, limit people to confining and bizarre stereotypes, rendering it harder to test the boundaries semantics can place on experimentation. They also perpetuate the notion that sexuality is absolute and unwavering — and thus that you, “lesbian,” will simply explode when you touch penis, and that the Internet will love it.
The video attempts to deliver a message: nothing that craaaazy happened. “It’s healthy and it’s normal to celebrate everybody’s body for what it is, but that doesn’t mean you have to be attracted to it,” says one “lesbian [who just] touch[ed] penis.” The lesbians did not explode, and perhaps that’s even the “moral” of the video. Regardless, the draw of the video for over 11 million viewers surely isn’t the less sensational moral so much as the fact that “lesbian” and “penis” seems some wild, otherworldly combination. Get over it.
Sitting and enjoying gay people acting afraid as they squeeze a culturally significant flesh-bump that’s somehow supposed to disgust verges — very mildly — on sideshow entertainment. “Perform an inversion of the most reduced function of your identity! Usually you’re touching a vagina! Now you’re not!” Sure, I bet plenty of straight men would perform total fear and discomfort if they had to touch someone else’s dick on camera, just like press tours for Brokeback Mountain so often focused on the bravery of two straight actors bumping merkins. But just as a video deriving humor from straight men freaking out about penises would be denounced as gay panic, the enthusiasm for “Lesbians Touch Penis…” similarly seems like another form of residual sexual-panic entertainment that reinforces the tired notion that not being attracted to certain bodies means being repulsed by them.