Wish Room is a manufacturer of familiar lingerie products: frilly pink brassieres and panties, diaphanous silk nighties, and the like. But the cuts are a little odd — because they are designed for men. The Japanese fashion house sells its products not at sex-fetish shops of the sort that might cater to a Doctor Frank-N-Furter but at traditional shopping malls, and executive director Akiko Okunomiya tells the Daily Mail: “I think more and more men are becoming interested in bras. Since we launched the men’s bra, we’ve been getting feedback from customers saying, ‘Wow, we’d been waiting for this for such a long time.’” I myself approach the subject of other people’s underwear on a strictly need-to-know basis, but I could not help here wondering about the same thing that crossed my mind when I encountered a very rock-’n’-roll red-paisley deconstructed Comme des Garçons dinner jacket: What, exactly, is the appropriate occasion?
I believe I have found the answer.
“It’s not possible to have a completely gender neutral date,” writes therapist Andrew Smiler in a head-clutchingly asinine essay for the Good Men Project, a repository of painfully navel-gazing male-feminist apologetics that describes itself as “not so much a magazine as a social movement.” While acknowledging the impossibility of his daunting task, Mr. Smiler goes on to offer a great many helpful tips in his “Guy’s Guide to the Gender-Minimized First Date.” But not before making a full and frank apology in advance: “I’m trying to write this guide to apply across all genders, masculine, feminine, trans*, etc. If I’ve missed or something is very wrong, I have faith someone will let me know in the comments. I’m also writing based on my own American background and referring primarily to gender roles as they currently exist in the U.S. Depending on where you’re from, you may have grown up with this approach or you may find it completely foreign.” An asterisk on that asterisk: “Trans*” I am reliably informed, is the new, more inclusive way of referring in writing to the phenomenon of transsexualism, or as the ever-helpful FAQ at “Ask a Trans Woman” explains: “Trans, sans asterisk, has a tendency to mean gender-binary folk (trans men and trans women, often by the DSM-IV, GID definition of the words.) Trans* is more inclusive.” It is getting difficult to keep up.
Mr. Smiler’s advice, almost all of which is catastrophically bad, consists in the main of pre-cooking evasive strategies for such potentially fraught issues as deciding who pays for dinner or whether to split the check in the name of sexual egalitarianism. His guidance: The party proffering the invitation pays for the party accepting it. This is the sole area in which Mr. Smiler, otherwise a celebrant of sexual fluidity, concedes that expectations may be fixed by circumstance. “You can maintain one roll [sic
] . . . or you can switch around,” except when the bill comes, which is to say you can pass the rolls but not the check. Not my own style, though fair enough. (But who says you get to make the rules, Mr. Man?)
It should go without saying, here at what one hopes against hope is at long last the nadir of Western sexual dysfunction, that Mr. Smiler’s gender roles have nothing to do with anything so quotidian as the actual sex of the person with which they are associated: “Your genitalia — and your partner’s genitalia — are only relevant if you prefer some types of genitalia over others,” he writes. Possibly relevant maxims here include “De gustibus non disputandum est,” or, perhaps more apropos, Richard Fariña’s “Mea most maxima culpa, baby, ’cause this is my week for chicks.” It is emblematic of our current attitudes toward sex, which are fundamentally consumerist, that this question is approached as though it were a choice between the gluten-free lasagna and the full-on farina di grano tenero.
In truth the majority of people, so overwhelming a majority as to be nearly universal, do in fact prefer some types of genitalia over others. (I trust that this is not news to you.) Which is why Mr. Smiler immediately sets about undermining his own advice on the subject, recommending that his readers get “all gendered up” on the implicit assumption that a gender-neutral first date is in fact the last thing that anybody really wants. That is because people in the main not only prefer some types of genitalia over others, they in most cases also prefer romantic partners who seem like the sort of person who would under normal circumstances sport the sort of genitalia they fancy. If Mr. Smiler really thought that playing down sexual specifics was the way toward a happy and fulfilling romantic life, he’d be hawking those Japanese man-bras to his few good men.
In describing the quest for a gender-neutral first date, Mr. Smiler never gets around to asking why anybody would want one in the first place. The answer is that no one does.
Two other gems in Mr. Smiler’s offering: “Although it can be awkward, I recommend having at least a little conversation about gender roles — especially as they apply to dating and sex — during the first date.” And: “Decide if and how much sexual contact you want to have with this person at this time.” I will predict that if you take his advice on the former, the latter will be moot. It is almost enough to make one pine for the simpler time when first dates were mainly characterized by Wild Turkey and bad decisions. (“Depending on where you’re from, you may have grown up with this approach or you may find it completely foreign.”)