Gerbils? Again?

Savage Love 

Gerbils? Again?

DEAR READERS—

I'm off this week. To tide all of your hot and/or kinky and/or sore asses over, here's a column I wrote 15 years ago. Some newer readers might've missed this column when it originally appeared—some of you who were still in grade school, diapers, or amniotic sacs back in 1998—so I'm rerunning it now because I still get questions about "gerbiling" on a daily basis. —Dan

Dear Dan —

We were having a little office debate about "gerbiling." How does it work? Do all gay men do this? Does Richard Gere? Does the animal get shoved up the anus with a toilet-paper roll only to suffocate seconds later? Is it the scratching or the act of killing an animal that gets people off? Why? Can't this cause serious damage? What gives?

—Curious Coworkers

Every day, my mail contains at least three questions about "gerbiling." In the eight years I've been writing this column, I have never addressed the gerbil issue, but now, this week and this week only, I am breaking my silence. Clip and save this column, for I will never discuss gerbils again. Ahem. To begin, I would like to make a controversial statement:

I have never had a gerbil in my ass.

This statement is not controversial for the reasons one would hope: It isn't controversial in the "Hey! That's uncalled for!" sense, like, say, a woman at a dinner party announcing that she doesn't have a hedgehog in her vagina. That would be uncalled for, because no one would suspect her of concealing a hedgehog. But being a gay man or Richard Gere in America means always having to reassure people that you don't have a gerbil in your ass—at dinner parties, during family reunions, at funerals, on CNN, at passport control, wherever! For while gay men and, I assume, Richard Gere don't put gerbils in their asses, not a day goes by that someone—usually a straight 13-year-old boy—doesn't try to shove one in, figuratively speaking.

Hundreds of thousands of men and women in this country, my fellow Americans, leave high school convinced that gay men put gerbils in their asses on a semiregular basis. Unlike our hypothetical dinner-party guest—the vaginal hedgehog stuffer—my denial of stuffing gerbils is necessitated by the accusation. If it were widely believed that women stuffed hedgehogs into their vaginas, then women would have to deny "hedgehogging."

Okay, two things:

1. The type of straight person who believes that gay men engage in "gerbiling" is likely to believe other gay stereotypes: We're all prissy little swishes, for instance, with clean apartments and extensive collections of original Broadway cast recordings. Yet the same person who believes gay men are prim sissies also believes we're capable of holding a struggling rodent in one hand while ripping its lower jaw off with the other, and then tearing its legs off (think of the mess!) and stuffing it up our butts—hardly a prim pastime. This is known as cognitive dissonance: the holding of mutually exclusive beliefs.

2. There is nothing intrinsically "gay" about gerbil-stuffing. You don't need two penises—you don't actually need penises at all—or an original Broadway cast recording. All you need is one doomed gerbil and one willing butthole (and pliers, lube, tubes, and string). Some straight people have a peculiar need to believe certain sex acts—usually disgusting ones—are practiced only by gay men, despite evidence to the contrary. Fisting, for instance. Straight people can and do fist. I have a file of heterosexual fisting photos, anal and vaginal, that I've pulled off the internet; I keep them on my desktop to prove to family and friends that, yes indeed, straight people fist. This curious impulse to credit gay men with sex acts that anyone can perform extends to sex acts straight people themselves are the primary practitioners of. Child rape, for instance.

Now I feel I can write with some authority that no one has ever actually stuffed a gerbil up their butt, perhaps with more authority than I can write that God and angels do not exist. I've had conversations with hundreds of outrageously kinky people, gay and straight, who've told me the craziest shit: I once chatted for an hour with a guy who married his horse. (He was deeply offended when I asked if his horse was a he horse or a she horse. "I am not a homosexual," the hetero horse-fucker informed me.) Both in my professional and personal life, thousands of guys have freely admitted to doing the most out-there, dangerous, risky, stupid, kinky stuff. But not once in all these years has anyone ever told me that he, or anyone he knows, or anyone anyone he knows knows, has ever put a gerbil in his ass. Like the doomed gerbils themselves, this story has no legs. It is an urban legend.

Find the Savage Lovecast (my weekly podcast) every Tuesday at thestranger.com/savage.

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