David, one of the tall, meaty athletes I used to wrestle in our college dorm and elsewhere, once politely pointed out that he had noticed that I got an erection sometimes when we were squeezing together on the carpet, on the bed, or on the sofa. Right now I can't remember if it was he or I, but one of us reassured the other that this sort of thing "sometimes happens," and David was careful not to make his observation sound accusatory. He even said he was okay with it, even though he seemed to think that perhaps we needed to talk about it. This was in the 1970s, when R-rated movies were the norm, and on TV Phil Donahue, the Oprah of that decade, was trying desperately to make sexuality, even homosexuality, seem less monstrous to the American people. But this was also at a fundamentalist evangelical college, where two or three times a month homosexuality was singled out as an especially deviant sin, its practice described sometimes in shocking detail from the pulpit.
The problem of the fractious hard-on has been a subject of ridicule and alarm since at least Aristophanes' Lysistrata. In the sixteenth century, Montaigne resigned himself to the cock's having a mind of its own, saying,
People are right to notice the unruly liberty of this member, obtruding so importunately when we have no use for it, and failing so importunately when we have the most use for it, and struggling for mastery so imperiously with our will, refusing with so much pride and obstinacy our solicitations, both mental and manual.*Last summer, Olympic rower Henrik Rummel's flagrantly importune wood was the subject of some debate in the sports media. Sports that involve skintight gear often induce some excitement in the unruly member, even more so when the athletes are young and the sport involves a lot of body contact. Openly gay rowing coach Charley Sullivan worried that the Rummel incident might obscure the "sport's real value." Yet erections are a normal and wholesome part of being male. Just ask men spending big bucks on Viagra whether a hard dick is a desirable thing. It's part of nature, and it's a sign of good health.
Wrestling boners and wrestling to emission ought to be recognized as not only benign but also potentially a form of safe sex. Penetration is cool and lots of fun, but frottage and mutual masturbation are just as much fun and a lot safer. Getting hard while wrestling does not mean that a wrestler is gay, but it does point out the (for some) uncomfortable fact that wrestling is erotic, regardless of whom one is likely to fall in love with, a point that American culture does not even dispute when the subject is women's or mixed wrestling. The downplaying of the sexual component in wrestling is simply one instance of the downplaying of sexuality in general in American and some other Western societies--and it's that sort of repression which is unhealthy.
Wrestling Arsenal is running an informative and entertaining three-part series on the "gay question" in pro wrestling. The second part focuses on a shoot video by Brian Kendrick and Paul London, in which the handsome wrestlers joke about the homoeroticism of their sport, with no apparent defensiveness over it. That's a healthy attitude. (Read Part 1 of the series here.) That straight wrestlers and promoters have at times expressed support for my blog is something I could not have imagined in the 1970s, when I could not even imagine myself as being gay. That many gay men are still squeamish about the subject remains a mystery--and frankly a source of embarrassment.
*"Of the Power of the Imagination," translated by Donald Frame