Exploring gender subversion and recuperation in anal fisting among gay men

11 Mar 2020

Anal fisting among gay men, that is, the sexual(ised) and erotic (single or partnered) practice of inserting the hand(s) and/or forearm(s) into the anus and rectum, has historically been framed in medical and medico-forensic case studies as a violent and dangerous sexual practice associated with the contraction of disease, heightened risk of sexual injury, and the possibility of death. In contrast to this, pro-Queer scholars of gender and sexuality have conceptually reframed the act of anal fisting among gay men as a subversive sexual practice which in its discursive and material performances radically transgresses the heteronormative tropes which typically underwrite human sex/uality, especially in ways that render the preferred representations of (gay) sex as ‘vanilla’. By drawing from unstructured individual interviews with a sample of eight (self-identifying) South African gay men who regularly incorporate anal fisting into their sexual relations, this study explores the gendered contradictions which rhetorically circumscribe how these men discursively construct and experience the corpo-erotic practice of anal fisting. In doing so, the findings highlight that while anal fisting among gay men may in fact engender shades of a sexually subversive practice by the way it radically (re)makes the material and erotic possibilities and connections of gay men’s bodies in exceptionally non-normative and perhaps Queer ways; it is, at the same time, also invested with, and reiterative of, discursive repertoires which actively recuperate heteronormative as well as heteromasculinist tropes and gendered power relations that, in some instances, appear femiphobic.