Andrew Belonsky

The Oral Sex Insult I Can't Use in this Headline

Filed By Andrew Belonsky | May 03, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Dorothy Parker, gay actors, Montgomery Clift, Tallulah Bankhead, Trumane Capote

There's no shortage of homophobic insults out there. Though some are more blatantly bigoted, MClift.jpglike "faggot," and others - "fairy" - are more feeble, the pejorative meaning of many of these phrases is pretty straight-forward. Still others, however, are more subtle and therefore troublesome, such as "cocksucker."

Now, I try not to call people names. On the sporadic occasions that I do, however, I prefer "cocksucker." It has such a nice, forceful effect to it. It's evocative. Sadly for me, it's also homophobic.

But not always....

First, a brief etymological lesson: the term "cock" as slang for penis dates back to at least 1610, a shortened version of its linguistic forebearer, pillicock, and the addition of "sucker" can be traced to the 1890s. Later, in the 1920s, the fully formed "cocksucker" was characterized as a "contemptible person," according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which also offers this reduction for cocksucker: an "aggressively obnoxious man."

Cocksucker is for all intents and purposes, then, reserved for men, because sucking another man's penis, the source of his hypothetical masculine power, implies, especially in the 1920s, weakness, deplorability, and deficiency. Cocksucker, in meaning and common use, becomes just as homophobic as other anti-gay phrases.

In fact, "cocksucker" was at one point widely accepted slang for a gay man, as seen in the following anecdote, as retold by Truman Capote and countless others...

A drunken Dorothy Parker, Tallulah Bankhead, and secretly bisexual actor Montgomery Clift, a renowned beauty (see image), were at a dinner party when Parker remarked of Clift, "He's so beautiful... Sensitive. So finely made. The most beautiful man I've ever seen. What a pity he's a cocksucker."

Catching her potential gaffe, Parker turned to Bankhead and said, "Have I said something wrong? I mean, he is a cocksucker, isn't he Tallulah?" Bankhead famously replied, "Well, darling, I really wouldn't know. He's never sucked my cock."

Cocksucker now appears to be as straight-forward as the other homophobic invective, and this queer case of oral affronts seems closed. But trust there are a there are a few more twists and turns of the tongue that must be considered.

First, as with other common aspersions, gay men have reclaimed "cocksucker," often using it "cocksucker" with pride - I trust I don't have to provide an example or reason, but here's one anyway: "Man, you know I'm a fabulous cocksucker!" Or then there's the laudatory praise, "I love dating that guy. He's a terrific cocksucker." (And surely it comes up in some people's sex play, but that's a different subject all together.)

The second complication is far more sticky: the rare instances in which the expression cocksucker get lobbed at women, specifically a lesbian?

If applied to a straight woman, "cocksucker" is rendered quite impotent. That population is meant, in the heterosexist sense, to perform fellatio. But lesbians are a different story.

As a woman, the lesbian is also expected to perform such actions, but probably does not, would not or should not, in theory, and "cocksucker" attacks that woman's innate lesbianism.

What appears as a simple and blunt term, "cocksucker," has a far more complex and muddled than most people care to realize. Like all aspersions, including "bitch," which I've also dissected, "cocksucker" must be wielded wisely, or not at all.

As for me, I personally have no choice to but to exorcise my favorite vilification from my vocabulary, except perhaps in some of the aforementioned unique scenarios. And I'll leave you to chew on that....

Image of Montgomery Clift in 'Red River' via Kitty Packard.

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mistwolf mistwolf | May 4, 2011 1:15 AM

If South Park taught me anything before going mainstream, it's that the only remaining acceptable insult should be pigfucker. It's pretty hard to say there's anything wrong with that, unless you're a pig. :)

Out of all the insults and out of all the terms I hear others use, this is the only one which continues to send chills down my spine. It's leftover from being so hidden and terrified of discovery in high school.

There are a lot of ways I've heard the term thrown about with women beyond what you're talking about that you may be interested to know about.

I've heard straight women called a cocksucker to indight their sluttiness ("I can't believe her, she's such a cocksucking whore")

Or as an insult insinuating her subservience to men. ("That cocksucking bitch is always defending those sexist assholes")

I've heard lesbians called a cocksucker as an insult to question the validity of her sexual identity. ("I can't believe that cocksucker had the gall to claim to be one of us")

Additionally, some lesbians do suck cock (men aren't the only ones with cocks out there, not to mention that some lesbians do have sex with men) and similar to what you cite, proclaim the term proudly as a badge of their skills. I remember years ago going to a workshop titled "Cocksucking for Dykes," which was one of the best attended workshops at the conference.

Paul Neuwirth | May 4, 2011 4:49 AM

Whenever any of my straight male coworkers casually calls someone a cocksucker around me (and I am VERY out at work), I immediately say, "Oh, so you DON'T like getting your cock sucked, then?" and they immediately come back with, "Oh, yeah, if it's a woman!" which I then say, "So, I guess, since you are using the term as an insult, that makes you a fucking hippocrite, and no woman should ever suck your dick, again, right?" at which point, all my female coworkers immediately go "yeah, right!" etc. Then, I like to rub my atheism in their faces and say something like, "Well, if there is a god, then, he/she/it would make sure you never got a blowjob, ever again. Oh, wait, lucky for you, there ISN'T a god!", which REALLY pisses them off (I work in a casino in Mississippi).......Now, if someone calls ME a cocksucker, I immediately say, in a low but loud voice,"You're right...and you are in the presence of The Master!"

Yes ... similarly, if I'm called a cocksucker by a straight man, I reply, "I'm told I'm good at it ... and I hear your girlfriend (or wife) needs lessons."

(In the 1977 film Slap Shot during a fight on the hockey arena, Paul Newman's character is told, "You suck cock!" and Newman replies, "All I can get!")

Jonathan | May 4, 2011 9:29 AM

I've been called cocksucker lots of times, as if it's a bad thing. Truth be told, I'm really good at it and enjoy it immensely.

I only use "cocksucker" when referring to other drivers on the road. I live in NJ.

Jerame and I have had this discussion too because it's one of my favorite swears but he insists that I'm being homophobic every time I say it. He's probably right, but I like it so much better than bitch or bastard or whatever.

Perhaps you're more comfortable with an insult with a homophobic history than an insult with a sexist history because you're gay but not a woman.

Either way, I'd say that I love the term, but using it as an insult definitely doesn't feel right. Cocksuckers should be prized and adored rather than reviled.

That's a really good point, Tobi. Thanks for that.

(And I love a good cocksucker too! *grins*)