What My Dad Wrote A Porno gets wrong about queer history

Two Black gay men hold hands, with their other hands together forming a heart. Photo.
Image licensed through Adobe.

My Dad Wrote A Porno is a cultural phenomenon. While I could talk about how the podcast is frequently filled with body- and kink-shaming, it has me giggling as often as it has me shouting at the hosts that no, that’s not how BDSM works. However, as it’s LGBTQ+ History Month here in the UK, I thought I’d unpack one particular pet peeve: for a podcast where one of the hosts is a gay man, My Dad Wrote A Porno really doesn’t understand queer history.

Quick disclaimer: I am not an expert on queer history! I’m still learning myself, and I’m not writing this post to call out the hosts of the podcast but to educate other fans who might not know this stuff either. This post also contains affiliate links. 

My Dad Wrote a Porno is a podcast hosted by Jamie Morton, James Cooper, and Alice Levine. Each episode Morton reads a chapter of “erotic pamphlet” Belinda Blinked, which was written by his father under the pen name Rocky Flintstone. The hosts tear apart the somewhat-questionable erotica and repeatedly ask how Morton was conceived if his father knows this little about sex.

It’s hilarious – if you can put up with the surprising amount of sex negativity.

What My Dad Wrote A Porno gets wrong

There are so many things I would like to tell the hosts. While Flintstone’s writing is undoubtedly bad, it’s their analysis that I often find more painful. It’s definitely important for people to admit that they don’t know everything about sex, of course, and the podcast has certainly sparked conversation about what the cervix actually is. I just really hope they have an actual sex educator on the show some day.

Sex isn’t gross or weird or shameful – but the hosts seem to forget this in their horror at Flintstone’s attempts to write sex.

Let’s leave anal-safe sex toys aside for now. I’ll save my rant about penis pumps for another day. Instead, let’s skip to series three, episode four of the podcast. The episode where his co-hosts ask Cooper why he refers to himself as a ‘lady’ on dates:

Morton: James, you’re a lady every day.

Levine: Why do you always say that on dates?

Cooper: Excuse me?

Levine and Morton: You always say you’re a lady!

Morton: You always say ‘oh, I wonder why they don’t call me again’  and we’re like ‘because you kept referring to yourself as a lady!’ I’m a lady!

Cooper: Ok, I only refer to myself as a lady when the gentlemen friends want to take me home on the first date and I’m not that kind of girl.

Levine: Are you fucking kidding me? Yes you are.

Morton: But also stop calling yourself a girl.

Levine: It’s horrible!

Morton: You’re not that kind of girl because you’re not a girl. But you are that kind of boy.

Levine: You are that kind of boy. Anything for a free Uber ride, am I right?

Cooper’s sexuality comes up regularly in the podcast, because as a cis gay man he has little experience with the kinds of sex Flintstone writes about. Listeners hear snippets about his dating life as well. I feel that Morton and Levine’s reactions to these often play into the stereotype that all gay men are promiscuous, which in itself makes me uncomfortable.

Queer culture historically

While I understand how the playful slut shaming left Morton flustered, I wish he had actually answered their question. There is a reason why gay men might refer to themselves as ladies, why gay men call each other ‘girl’, and why gay men used to refer to their partners with she/her pronouns. It’s a pretty simple answer:

Historically, it has not been safe to be openly queer.

Sex between two cis men was illegal in England and Wales until 1967. Sodomy was first made illegal in 1533, and even after the 1967 Sexual Offences Act queer folks could still be prosecuted for public displays of affection. Some claim that repression actually grew much worse. Colin Richardson’s research shows that the number of convictions for gross indecency had grown by more than 300% to 1,711 in 1974 from 1966.

The gross indecency laws under which Alan Turing and Oscar Wilde had been convicted weren’t fully overturned until 2003. The need for secrecy meant that the queer community adopted slang to hide what they were talking about and create solidarity in the gay subculture. In the UK, this slang included Polari.

Polari is an English dialect that combined elements of Romany, Spanish, Italian, Yiddish, criminal cant and Cockney rhyming slang. While often described as the “lost language of gay men”, Polari was also used by sex workers, thieves, and merchant navy sailors. In the mid-20th Century it was common for gay men to slip into using Polari when others might be listening, especially when talking about sex.

“She-ing” in queer culture

Across the Atlantic, we can trace the roots of American queer linguistics back to the Harlem Renaissance. Later seen in Polari this is when feminising and fucking with language became a part of mainstream queer culture. “She-ing” is the academic term for this switching of gender pronouns when it wasn’t safe to be openly queer. It’s found in cultures across the world, from Peru to the Philippines.

Paul Baker, linguist and author of Fabulosa!: The Story of Polari, Britain’s Secret Gay Language, says that you can “she anyone”: “you can she your father or the police. It’s inverting mainstream society’s values so that everybody is potentially gay and everybody is potentially feminine.”

William Leap, a professor of anthropology and expert on queer linguistics, has studied the sexualised language of Harlemese. While the language of everyday life in Harlem was not explicitly queer, Black queer folks of all genders played with gendered language and pronoun switching during the Harlem Renaissance.

I think Levine and Morton’s reactions comes not only from a lack of knowledge of queer history, but from misunderstanding the discrimination that the queer community still experience. Even today it isn’t always safe to be openly queer. Of course, gay men “she-ing” each other is no longer only used to keep their queerness secret. It creates community. There is solidarity and power in reclaiming femininity and taking pride in the things that mark you as ‘different’.

Critiquing queer culture

However, something that’s empowering can also be problematic. Gay men are just as capable of perpetuating misogyny as cishet men, as Rachel Anspach explores in this brilliant article for Them. The language gay men use with each other includes words like “bitch” and “cunt”. Should they get a free pass on using words that degrade women because they’re gay?

Both the historical and more modern use of gay men using she/her pronouns comes from the Black and Latinx communities. While it’s now used by gay men of all races, the context is important. A white, cis gay man calling a Black woman “girl” comes across differently; Black people have historically been called ‘girl’ and ‘boy to deny them respect and even their adulthood.

The ways that gay men fuck with gender in their language is part of the increased gender-fluidity in the queer community. With more understanding of trans and non-binary identities, pronouns are becoming increasingly detached from specific gender identities. However, not everyone is comfortable with gay men “she-ing” them. Using myself as an example, would be ok if a cis gay man called me “girl”? Absolutely not. Even if they were showing me that they see me as a ‘real’ man, it would still be misgendering.

But bringing it back to My Dad Wrote A Porno, I don’t think Levine and Morton’s objections contain this nuance. Whether or not Cooper is comfortable with their comments, they could still be alienating to the podcast’s LGBTQ+ listeners. I don’t expect anyone to know everything about queer history, but I spend most of my time in sex-positive spaces. I forget people might not know this context.

And this context is important. Queer history is important.

Stop using Sarah Everard's murder as a reason to be transphobic
Nude in yellow

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *