About Heteronormative Male Sexual Fantasy Tropes

A few weeks ago, I participated in the 1000 words of summer challenge, which was to write 1000 words a day for two weeks. I started a day late but managed to produce 15K+ words by the end of it. My approach was simple. Every morning I would write about the details of my morning, from the time I woke, to going out for a walk, to arriving at my favorite coffee shop. I wrote it in the third person as a fictionalized account. My plan is to further fictionalize and build out from this core of writing.

One of the mornings I wrote about, I had a particularly memorable experience on my walk. A beautiful young woman walked up to me, sporting an unlit cigarette between the index and middle fingers of her right hand, and asked me if I had a light. I am not a fan of smoking, so in my conscious mind I thought, “you shouldn’t smoke,” but this young woman was an astonishing vision. Producing a lighter and lighting her cigarette would have absolutely made my day, or rather, it would have prolonged for a few seconds longer this commune with feminine beauty and sexuality the universe had chosen to send my way. Primal me had taken over. I told her I didn’t have a light, she told me it was ok, she’d find one up the street at the gas station and walked off muttering something about Beacon and five years. I turned and walked to the end of the street, which was not far away, crossed to the other side, and started walking back up Main Street, half hoping I would see her again. She had, however, disappeared into thin air. There was no evidence of her anywhere I looked.

At the beginning of this past week, I decided that an interesting way to extend my writing project would be to write the stories of the people encountered on my walks. I would write them over the same, or similar hours of the morning, over the same 13 days. Their lives and the lives of my protagonist running in alternate universes, intersecting in the brief ways they did, then continuing on in their alternate universes. I decided to start with “cigarette woman,” as I now referred to her, and write backwards and a little forwards from the moment I had encountered her on the street. I had no idea where she had come from or was going to when I encountered her, but I wanted to write a plausible scenario into which the moment she walked up and asked me for a light fit.

So, I wrote about her having hooked up with a redheaded woman in a bar and winding up sleeping with her. I picked up the story in the morning afterglow of a night of passion, when she wakes up and sees what time it is and realizes she has to get to work. The prose flowed out of me and within an hour or two I had the bones and a lot of the flesh of Lila, as I had named her. I knew I was writing something that could be perceived as a male fantasy trope, but I earnestly wanted to lift the story beyond that. I read a rough draft to my wife, who instantly proclaimed it a male fantasy trope. “Come on, she said, two beautiful women kissing up on each other? The stuff of every straight man’s dreams.”

In rewrites, I worked at toning down the two beautiful women kissing up on each other aspect of it a bit. I tried to depict the sensual and physical intimacy that two women might feel if they were sexually aroused by each other and basking in the afterglow of some great love making. I read the piece to my wife a couple more times as it evolved, and she kept having more or less the same reaction to it. Eventually, I asked my wife if the scene I painted was implausible. She said, as far as she knew, it wasn’t. I asked her if I had been disrespectful to women in the way I wrote it. She said I had not. So then, I suggested, the problem is that because a man wrote it, it can’t escape the male fantasy trope critique? She said maybe.

I continued to work daily at refining it. I tried to delve deeper into the moments of intimate contact, not just between the two women, but between Lila and the two elder gentlemen she approached on the street looking for a light.

When I told my wife I was planning to read it at a literary open mic event at the end of the week, she hesitantly endorsed the idea.

The day of the night I was to read, I had scheduled an appointment with my wife’s hairdresser to get my hair trimmed and put into a French braid. I wear a French braid for special occasions and when I want to play the part of an artiste. I had an art gallery opening the next day. During my appointment, the woman cutting my hair and I engaged in idle chit-chat. I mentioned that I was reading some of my fiction at a literary open mic that night. She asked what my story was about. I told her it was about two women having a one-night stand, explained the scenario, and mentioned I had read it to my wife. “And what did your wife say?” she asked, “that it was male sexual fantasy writing,” I said, whereupon she said, “I love your wife.” She had the same “oh brother” reaction my wife did.

That was fine. I knew how it sounded and had anticipated the reaction.

Later, when I read it at the open mic event, it met with, what seemed to me, a lukewarm reception. A reception that seemed more politeness than enthusiasm, and absolutely nobody came up to me to talk about it, as I had actually hoped some woman would do. I wanted to know, is it plausible? Did it get beyond the male fantasy trope bit? If there were gay women in the room, and there were, I wanted to hear from them about the plausibility and accuracy of the physical intimacy I described between my two female characters. It felt more like an embarrassment swept under the rug of audience politeness than anything else.

After the event, I stewed in my juices a bit. I was disappointed in the reaction I got, and disappointed that nobody commented on my French braid, either.

I’ve had some time to contemplate the situation and to realize that yes, my story actually is a male fantasy trope. What else could it be? It was grounded in a moment that was of the stuff that heterosexual male fantasy is made of. A beautiful young woman walks up to a past-his-young-women-days man and asks, in a beguiling, slightly flirtatious way, for a light. My god, centuries of capitalist psychosexual conditioning came screaming at me in that one brief moment. It was primal. My perception of the moment was that this woman had had some kind of late night, had spewed out onto the street from wherever. She wants a smoke and, perhaps, a cup of coffee too. She didn’t come from her place, I surmised. Why would she be without a lighter if she did? No, I decided, this young woman had been out late, maybe all night. Perhaps she had slept somewhere not her home. She was not unhappy, or hungover, or drugged up. She was flirtatious and knew her way around male sexuality. So, for the purposes of my story, I decided she was out on the street after a one-night stand. And then I decided it would be more interesting to set her flirtatious behavior with two random men she encountered on the street in the context of her being gay or bisexual. Ok, from my lizard brain male perspective, it was more arousing that way too.

But here’s the thing. I wrote a scene in which two women do kiss up on each other, but, nobody has told me that what I wrote isn’t a plausible scenario between two women who are sexually attracted to one another. And, nobody has told me I have disrespected women in the way I wrote it. The only difficulty in the situation, as it turned out, was the trouble I had admitting to myself that I had written a male fantasy trope piece. I have decided to embrace that when I tell people about it. I say it’s a male fantasy trope piece right up front. And then I try to describe to them how I think it’s a bit more than that.

But you can decide for yourself. Here’s a link to the story. Let me know what you think. Thoughtful critique is welcome.

26 Weeks of Writing

A day or two after the new year began, I wrote and published my reflections on the past year and a set of aspirations for the new year. One of those aspirations was to write more, short and long form. It is 26 weeks into the year and I have exceeded my aspirations for writing and publishing. I have published micro posts daily, and each week, at least one long form essay. The total count of long form posts for the past six months is 28. What did I write about? The following is a list of my posts by category with brief description/summaries.

Personal Reflection

Many things have arisen that have given me cause for personal reflection. Writing is how I work out strong and confused emotions. Writing is how I am learning to understand myself and my relationship to the world around me.

Reflections for 2022, Aspirations for 2023: The post that got the ball rolling.

Never Put Off Till Tomorrow: About the death of my uncle before I could visit.

About The Handmaid’s Tale: My complex feelings about The Handmaid’s Tale.

My True Potential: About being a house husband and homemaker.

Smaller is Beautiful: About an argument with my wife which led to an epiphany.

About My 50th High School Reunion: My complicated feelings around my 50th reunion. Don’t we all have them?

It’s a simple thing, but: When my local theater decided it’s easier to post a link to a website than change the movies on the marquee weekly.


With the appearance of ChatGPT at the end of 2022, a lot of attention has been drawn to artificial intelligence, what I call, alternative intelligence. I wrote many times about ChatGPT, and reworked a talk I gave on AI in 2009 into a five-part post.

Nick Cave Vs. ChatGPT: The claim that ChatGPT can’t make art because it doesn’t feel or have the experience of aspiration and disappointment. I argue that whether it feels or has experience is irrelevant. All it needs to be able to do is make us feel.

What Is ChatGPT For?: Here I speculate that ChatGPT signals the emergence of a higher complexity intelligence built in part on human intelligence.

Another Post About AI: I make and address each of the following statements:

  • AI is here to stay.
  • AI is the continued evolution of intelligence on the planet.
  • AI is already good at, and will get even better at, getting us to engage with it.
  • There will certainly be good that comes of AI.
  • There will certainly be bad that comes of AI.
  • We don’t control the evolution of AI, and never will.
  • We can be happy, creative, and productive, in spite of AI.

Can AI Make Art?: In which I argue that great art can and will be made with AI.

And, my five part series on A(alternative)I(intelligence)

What Intelligent Life Is Made Of: Part 1

What Intelligent Life Is Made Of: Part 2

What Intelligent Life Is Made Of: Part 3

What Intelligent Life Is Made Of: Part 4

What Intelligent Life Is Made Of: Postscript

Books, Reading

I have read a number of books this year that have had a substantial impact on my thinking. These are the posts that are directly about, or inspired by, books I read.

“Make the work, something will come of it.”: About gift economies. Inspired by:

  • Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein
  • The Gift, Lewis Hyde
  • Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Buddhist Economics, E. F. Schumacher (an essay from the book, Small Is Beautiful)

Wo/man, The Two Legged Paradox: A look at the “survival of the fittest” and its efficacy as an organizing principle for society.

  • The Log from the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck

Spirit-Of-Gift: A further look at the gift economies.

  • The Gift, Lewis Hyde

Finding The Mother Community: On the atomization of society and how a strong and resilient society can be built.

  • Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, Suzanne Simard

How Much Does Happiness Cost?: On the surprisingly little money it takes for people to be happy. It ain’t all about the money.

  • Reclaiming the Sacred, Jeff Golden

And then I read.: About capitalism and its discontents.

  • Reclaiming the Sacred, Jeff Golden
  • Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein
  • The Gift, Lewis Hyde

Review of Reclaiming the Sacred, by Jeff Golden: A review of the book.


I write fiction from time to time. Short stories so far, though I am currently working on something that might turn out to be novella length. Look for more in this space in the coming months.

The Photograph: A short story I wrote when asked to be part of a story writing and reading event. Each participant was given a photograph, two authors for each photograph, and asked to write a short story that could be read in 5 minutes.

Something Is Afoot: A post about trends I am perceiving. Is there some big thing happening right now? I think so, but what it is, isn’t clear.

Spirituality, Humanism

A Humanist Concept of Sacred: This post was derived from a talk I gave at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. I decided to revisit it when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and because of the deeply divided nation I live in. I believe that it is important to have a concept of the sacred, of setting things apart from violation. The question is, where does the sacred emanate from if there is no God, which is the position I take.

Democracy and Patriarchy

“Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light”: About a patriarchy loosing its grip on power and the violent backlash that has resulted.

Individual vs. The Whole

In Praise of the Choir: We live in a society that idolizes the child prodigy and worships the exceptional individual. We are told from the time we are small children that we can be anything we want to be, and that we, too, are exceptional. This piece is about the choir, the power and beauty of it, and how it’s enough to be a member of it, even honorable.

I am excited to see what the next six months of writing will tackle. I feel I am hitting my stride. I have really accomplished something. Thanks for reading.

The Photograph

Photograph by Margot Kingon

When she stumbled across it, she didn’t think much of it. A photograph with little useful information. A photograph with nothing apparent to say about family history. A black and white photograph of a man crouched in the waters of a stream, rocks visible below the surface in the foreground, a darkness on the opposite bank in the background. She tossed it aside, favoring images with faces to recognize, her grandmother, her grandfather, her mother, her father, her aunts, her uncles. That is to say, portraits she recognized as the family history that had brought her to where she was in life.

She made a selection of those images and tucked them into an envelope to bring with her to the hospice. She wanted to provoke memories from her father, as many as she could before he left. She wanted to carry forward as much of the family history as possible, for her children, her children’s children, her children’s children’s children. She wanted to be able to speak the web of stories to them down through the ages, adding her own, inspiring them to add their own as they moved through space over time.

She walked through the door to her dad’s room. His eyes opened to the distinctive sound of his daughter’s entry. There wasn’t anything exceptionally noticeable about the way she moved through doors, but when you’ve known someone all their lives, you become familiar with their nuances. You sense them in all manner of ways you are barely aware of.

A smile spread across his face as she walked up to the bed.

Good timing he said, just finished a nap.

How are you feeling? she asked.

Better now that you’re here. What’s that? he said, glancing towards the envelope clutched to her chest.

Some of your pictures dad. I thought we could look at them together and you could tell me about them.

More family inquisition? he said with a half smile.

He understood his daughter’s need to plumb the past and gather what she could about his-story, which was, of course, part of her-story. He didn’t mind these sessions, though he was growing more weary each day as his body moved towards reintegration, as he liked to think about it.

She pulled the pictures out and they went through them, Who’s this? she asked, or, Tell me more about Aunt J or Where was this taken? or, Why does mom look sad in this one?

After a while she could see her father was getting tired, so she tucked the pictures back into the envelope, turning pictures already viewed the opposite direction from the ones not viewed so she could remember where they were tomorrow. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. She sat in the chair beside his bed and listened to him breathe for a while, then she dosed off too. When she woke his eyes were focused on her. They smiled at one another.

Glancing at her watch she said I better go, gotta feed the dogs and Mark, Same time tomorrow?

I’ll be here.



She knew he would keep his promise if he could. She knew the hospice would call her if it looked like he wouldn’t.

When she got home Mark was waiting, dogs fed, diner ready. A Persian shrimp dish with basmati rice and bitter greens salad. She poured herself a glass of wine.

How’s your dad? he asked.

Good, we had a nice chat. I brought some of his pictures and we went through them. It was nice to hear his stories. I know most of them, but there is always something new.

How was your day? she asked.

Work is work, he said.

She considered his reply for a moment.

Thank you, she said.

For what? he asked.

For working, for being here, for giving me time with my dad.

Nothing you wouldn’t do for me, he said.

Days continued to pass. Her visits with her father became less conversational and more quiet communion as his energy flagged. His “reintegration” would be soon. She spent more of each day by his side, wanting to be sure he wasn’t alone, that she didn’t miss the final goodbye.

She came home briefly for a change of clothes. For some reason, she felt compelled to have another look through his photographs and the odd one, the ambiguous one, came to the top again, it posed so many questions. Why did he hold on to a photograph that seemed to have so little to say directly about how things were? She decided to bring it back with her. He spent little time awake or coherent at this point, but if he became lucid she thought she would ask about it. And there was a lucid moment. When it came, she raised the photograph up.

Can you tell me about this one? she asked.

His face came alive in a way she could only describe as beatific. The expression then faded away without a word uttered. Breath stopped shortly after. She would never know what the photograph meant to him. She would never forget his radiant smile.

She framed the photograph and hung it on her wall. It gave her peace to look at it and remember her father’s radiant smile.

Time continued to pass. She too grew old and frail. Her son visited often as she moved towards her reintegration. One day he asked her about the photograph on the wall, which seemed so ambiguous, about so little. A smile spread across her face, she told him about her father’s final moments, his radiant smile.

When she reintegrated, he brought the photograph home with him and hung it on the wall. It reminded him of her beautiful smile. He imagined the crouched figure of the man in the water as the cumulative spirits of all his ancestors. It gave him peace whenever he needed it.