On The Varieties Of Eunuchhood

“Some are made eunuchs of men”, said Jesus. Indeed they are, in a great variety of ways, both literal and metaphorical, and with varying degrees of consent. In his day eunuchs were not created only to guard a ruler’s womenfolk, oriental bureaucracies were also composed of castrates in order to prevent hereditary transmission of office. It would not be reasonable to assume that all the candidates were captured and held down screaming while their equipment was removed; if castration were the price of a cushy job with no heavy lifting and great opportunities for self-enrichment, many hungry young men would have considered it worth the price. And if they didn’t, their families would have considered it for them before the boys were old enough to fight for their balls. Having a palace eunuch in the family offered the same sort of advantage as a celibate cardinal or gay designer; the wealth or political support he generated accrued not to his own children but to his collateral kin. It is most unlikely that small boys volunteered to become castrati singers entirely of their own accord; they were pushed by their parents in the same way as their modern equivalents, the Idol hopefuls. Just what the priests of Cybele, the Great Mother, thought they were doing and why, when they castrated themselves in ecstatic rituals, I am not sure; it may be that, behind the mystical spin, the same economic mechanisms were operational. This was not the case when the church father Origen castrated himself in order to quench his sexual desire, but when whole communities follow suit, as with the Doukhobors, one may suspect the existence of more secular motives. And then we have castration as punishment for rape, whether carried out by the ruler, the insulted kin-group, or a band of furious women.

There was also something we might call “institutional quasi-castration”. For example, Rome did not in general allow its male slaves to breed; but since they required the physical vigour and rude health of intact males, agricultural and mining slaves were instead confined to all-male barracks, and new slaves were acquired through wars of aggression spun to the voters as the extension of the benefits of civilisation. House slaves were bred by the master himself.

We might further coin the term “demographic semi-castration” to cover an inability to reproduce because too many women have been sequestered in the harems of the ruling elite. Or when they have been aborted or killed in infancy. The same applies to when marriage is delayed until a man is in his forties or fifties and wealthy enough to afford a teenage bride, which was how agricultural and mercantile society generally worked; although luckier young men could marry the widows of their erstwhile employers, especially after a plague had passed through. Finally, we might stretch this term “demographic semi-castration” to embrace the weak and inferior males who are no longer killed off in competition or left to die in a state of nature. Instead, such Anoraks drag themselves through lives that might be just as long as those of their sexual superiors, but much drearier.

Yet another term might be “religious semi-castration”, which could cover all manner of repression and self-denial. It would be interesting to study the celibates in this category to see whether their personal charms might have made them sexual conquistadors in the absence of their religious scruples, or whether it is the other way round, namely that ideologies of sexual abstinence are rationalisations for failure, whether experienced or anticipated. To put it another way, how many medieval ascetics looked like Jude Law?

A final category is psychological castration, semi, quasi or otherwise. This operation is generally performed by parents and other adults in the victim’s childhood, through physical sexual abuse, or merely through the sort of things parents used to say to their children, such as “If you play with it, I’ll cut it off”. Here castration is not necessarily the right word, since such psychological neutering can very easily be perpetrated on women as well.

Some men claim that women can also castrate them twenty years later. I am sceptical of the use of the term “ball-breaker” to denote merely an assertive woman, one who is not such a pushover as the men would like, but it is true that psychological castration can be performed on an adult man by a woman or a series of women, provided only that he is thin-skinned and that they reject him in gratuitously horrible ways. A minority of women are in fact devoted to rejecting sexual, or even friendly, advances with the maximum possible scorn and cruelty; it is not enough to tell the man that they do not wish to sleep with him, they cannot resist telling him that no woman would, could or should want to have anything whatsoever to do with him. It is the precise equivalent of the way unpleasant young men inform one another that they would only copulate with a certain female if she had a bag over her head, except that the woman’s message is addressed to the victim direct. With such women, a man does not need to be drunk, smelly, stupid or brutish to be declared a non-member of the human race; inferior looks and minor infractions of current sartorial fashion are quite sufficient. In the conceptual world of these women, men are either Brad Pitt lookalikes or Untermenschen, with nothing whatever in the middle; and they are probably just as uncharitable towards their sisters.

There are definite reasons for this cruelty. In both sexes, position in the hierarchy is measured largely by whom you can attract, and so choosing a partner whom your peers consider inferior in looks and deportment will seriously damage your social standing. Both sexes therefore require to be continuously reassuring said peers of their high standards of taste, whence the frat-boy remarks about bags over heads and the competitive female disqualification of all the visible men; anyone who declines to up the stakes of the condemnatory language, anyone merciful enough to find some merit in the object of discussion, has merely demonstrated a lack of fine discrimination and is thereby demoted to a lower status in the group. Telling your suitor that he couldn’t get laid if he were the last man on Earth may therefore be a sign of acute social insecurity. Proper aristocrats may be fussy, but they are also courteous.

The term “tertiary impotence” has been used to denote the state of being physiologically and psychologically functional, but not socially; in other words, the plumbing works, but no one else is interested. Such men are, of course, the most universal figures of fun in our species; there is not, and never will be, any politically correct euphemism for the man who cannot get laid. The same applies to unattractive women and male society. The reason is probably that any solidarity with such individuals is automatically taken to signify membership in their category. Anyone who sympathises with such a man as a human being risks the assumption that she is interested because she “cannot do any better”; to avoid that horrible stigma, she must hasten to join the chorus of mockery. And likewise among the men. In other words, the dynamics are precisely those of the witch-hunt: if you deny that witches exist, then you must be one yourself, if you oppose the pre-emptive incarceration of communists, then you must be one yourself; and if you find any sort of merit in a sexual loser, then you must be one yourself.

Posted on June 6, 2010 at 11:25 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, The Life Unbeautiful

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