Aristotle’s Perversion

The ladies and gentlemen you see above are practicing the sexual roleplay called pony play, in which one of the two participants takes on the role of the horse and the other of the jockey. This is a quirky niche within the wider field of dom/sub relationships, yet according to the alternative sexuality expert Ayzad

aficionados can reach impressive levels of specialization: there are those who prefer working on posture and those who organize real races on the track, some live it as a sexual variant while others tend to focus on the psychological experience. Ponygirls often report loving this game because it allows them to regress to a primordial perception of the world, in which every feeling is experienced with greater intensity: many describe reverting to their usual “human condition” as harsh and unpleasant. Although there are no precise figures, it is believed that pony play is actively practiced by no more than 2,000 people worldwide, yet this fantasy is appreciated by a far greater number of sympathizers.

Ayzad, XXX. Il dizionario del sesso insolito, Castelvecchi. Edizione Kindle.

But few people know that this erotic mis-en-scene has an illustrious forerunner: the first unwilling ponyboy in history was none other than the greatest philosopher of ancient times1, Aristotle!

(Well, not really. But what is reality, dear Aristotle?)

At the beginning of the 1200s, in fact, a curious legend began to circulate: the story featured Aristotle secretly falling in love with Phyllis, wife of Alexander the Macedonian (who was a pupil of the great philosopher) .
Phyllis, a beautiful and shrewd woman, decided to exploit Aristotle’s infatuation to teach a lesson to her husband, who was neglecting her by spending whole days with his mentor. So she told Aristotle that she would grant him her favors if he agreed to let her ride on his back. Blinded by passion, the philosopher accepted and Phyllis arranged for Alexander the Great to witness, unseen, this comic and humiliating scene.

The story, mentioned for the first time in a sermon by Jacques de Vitry, became immediately widespread in popular iconography, so much so that it was represented in etchings, sculptures, furnishing objects, etc. To understand its fortune we must focus for a moment on its two main protagonists.

First of all, Aristotle: why is he the victim of the satire? Why targeting a philosopher, and not for instance a king or a Pope?
The joke worked on different levels: the most educated could read it as a roast of the Aristotelian doctrine of enkráteia, i.e. temperance, or knowing how to judge the pros and cons of pleasures, knowing how to hold back and dominate, the ability to maintain full control over oneself and one’s own ethical values.
But even the less educated understood that this story was meant to poke fun at the hypocrisy of all philosophers — always preaching about morality, quibbling about virtue, advocating detachment from pleasures and instincts. In short, the story mocked those who love to put theirselves on a pedestal and teach about right and wrong.

On the other hand, there was Phyllis. What was her function within the story?
At first glance the anecdote may seem a classic medieval exemplum designed to warn against the dangerous, treacherous nature of women. A cautionary tale showing how manipulative a woman could be, clever enough to subdue and seduce even the most excellent minds.
But perhaps things are not that simple, as we will see.

And finally there’s the act of riding, which implies a further ambiguity of a sexual nature: did this particular type of humiliation hide an erotic allusion? Was it a domination fantasy, or did it instead symbolize a gallant disposition to serve and submit to the beloved maiden fair?

To better understand the context of the story of Phyllis and Aristotle, we must inscribe it in the broader medieval topos of the “Power of Women” (Weibermacht in German).
For example, a very similar anecdote saw Virgil in love with a woman, sometimes called Lucretia, who one night gave him a rendez-vous and lowered a wicker basket from a window so he coulf be lifted up to her room; but she then hoisted the basket just halfway up the wall, leaving Virgil trapped and exposed to public mockery the following morning.

Judith beheading Holofernes, Jael driving the nail through Sisara’s temple, Salome with the head of the Baptist or Delilah defeating Samson are all instances of very popular female figures who are victorious over their male counterparts, endlessly represented in medieval iconography and literature. Another example of the Power of Women trope are funny scenes of wives bossing their husbands around — a recurring  theme called the “battle of the trousers”.
These women, whether lascivious or perfidious, are depicted as having a dangerous power over men, yet at the same time they exercise a strong erotic fascination.

The most amusing scenes — such as Aristotle turned into a horse or Virgil in the basket — were designed to arouse laughter in both men and women, and were probably also staged by comic actors: in fact the role reversal (the “Woman on Top”) has a carnivalesque flavor. In presenting a paradoxical situation, maybe these stories had the ultimate effect of reinforcing the hierarchical structure in a society dominated by males.
And yet Susan L. Smith, a major expert on the issue, is convinced that their message was not so clearcut:

the Woman on Top is best understood not as a straightforward manifestation of medieval antifeminism but as a site of contest through which conflicting ideas about gender roles could be expressed.

Susan L. Smith, Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia (2006)

The fact that the story of Phyllis and Aristotle lent itself to a more complex reading is also confirmed by Amelia Soth:

It was an era in which the belief that women were inherently inferior collided with the reality of female rulers, such as Queen Elizabeth, Mary Tudor, Mary, Queen of Scots, Queen Catherine of Portugal, and the archduchesses of the Netherlands, dominating the European scene. […] Yet the image remains ambiguous. Its popularity cannot be explained simply by misogyny and distrust of female power, because in its inclusion on love-tokens and in bawdy songs there is an element of delight in the unexpected reversal, the transformation of sage into beast of burden.

Perhaps even in the Middle Ages, and at the beginning of the modern period, the dynamics between genres were not so monolithic. The story of Phyllis and Aristotle had such a huge success precisely because it was susceptible to diametrically opposed interpretations: from time to time it could be used to warn against lust or, on the contrary, as a spicy and erotic anecdote (so much so that the couple was often represented in the nude).

For all these reasons, the topos never really disappeared but was subjected to many variations in the following centuries, of which historian Darin Hayton reports some tasty examples.

In 1810 the parlor games manual Le Petit Savant de Société described the “Cheval d’Aristote”, a vaguely cuckold penalty: the gentleman who had to endure it was obliged to get down on all fours and carry a lady on his back, as she received a kiss from all the other men in a circle.

The odd “Aristotle ride” also makes its appearance in advertising posters for hypnotists, a perfect example of the extravagances hypnotized spectators were allegedly forced to perform. (Speaking of the inversion of society’s rules, those two men on the left poster, who are compelled to kiss each other, are worth noting.)

In 1882 another great philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, brought to the stage his own version of Phyllis and Aristotle, himself taking on the role of the horse. In the photographs, he and his friend Paul Rée are at the mercy of the whip held by Lou von Salomé (the woman Nietzsche was madly in love with).

And finally let’s go back to the present day, and to those pony guys we saw at the beginning.
Today the “perversion of Aristotle”, far from being a warning about the loss of control, has come to mean the exact opposite: it has become a way to allow free rein (pun intended) to erotc imagination.

Ponies on the Delta, a ponly play festival, is held every year in Louisiana where a few hundred enthusiasts get together to engage in trot races, obstacle races and similar activities before a panel of experts. There are online stores that specialize in selling hooves and horse suits, dozens of dedicated social media accounts, and even an underground magazine called Equus Eroticus.

Who knows what the austere Stagirite would have thought, had he known that his name was going to be associated with such follies.
In a certain sense, the figure of Aristotle was really “perverted”: the philosopher had to submit not to the imaginary woman named Phyllis, but to the apocryphal legend of which he became the unwilling protagonist.

The Grim Reaper at the Chessboard

Few games lend themselves to philosophical metaphors like the game of chess.
The two armies, one dark and one bright, have been battling each other for millennia in endless struggle. An abstract fight of mathematical perfection, as mankind’s “terrible love of war” is inscribed within an orthogonal grid which is only superficially reassuring.
The chessboard hides in fact an impossible combinatory vertigo, an infinity of variations. One should not be fooled by the apparent simplicity of the scheme (the estimate of all possible games is a staggering number), and remember that famous Pharaoh who, upon accepting to pay a grain of wheat on the first square and to double the number of grains on the following squares, found himself ruined.

The battle of 32 pieces on the 64 squares inspired, aside from the obvious martial allegories, several poems tracing the analogy between the chessboard and the Universe itself, and between the pawns and human condition.
The most ancient and famous is one of Omar Khayyám‘s quatrains:

Tis all a Chequer-board of nights and days
Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the closet lays.

This idea of God moving men over the chessboard as he pleases might look somewhat disquieting, but Jorge Luis Borges multiplied it into an infinite regress, asking if God himself might be an unknowing piece on a larger chessboard:

Weakling king,  slanting bishop, relentless
Queen, direct rook and cunning pawn
Seek and wage their armed battle
Across the black and white of the field.

They know not that the player’s notorious
Hand governs their destiny,
They know not that a rigor adamantine
Subjects their will and rules their day.

The player also is a prisoner
(The saying  is Omar’s) of another board
Of black nights and of white days.

God moves the player, and he, the piece.
Which god behind God begets the plot
Of dust and time and dream and agonies?

This cosmic game is of course all about free will, but is also part of the wider context of memento mori and of Death being  the Great Leveler. Whether we are Kings or Bishops, rooks or simple pawns; whether we fight for the White or Black side; whether our army wins or loses — the true outcome of the battle is already set. We will all end up being put back in the box with all other pieces, down in “time’s common grave“.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Death many times sat at the chessboard before Man.

In the oldest representations, the skeleton was depicted as cruel and dangerous, ready to violently clutch the unsuspecting bystander; but by the late Middle Ages, with the birth of the Danse Macabre (and possibly with the influence of the haunting but not malevolent Breton figure of Ankou) the skeleton had become unarmed and peaceful, even prone to dancing, in a carnival feast which, while reminding the viewer of his inevitable fate, also had an exorcistic quality.

That Death might be willing to allow Man a game of chess, therefore, is connected with a more positive idea in respect to previous iconographic themes (Triumph of Death, Last Judgement, the Three Kings, etc.). But it goes further than that: the very fact that the Reaper could now be challenged, suggests the beginning of Renaissance thought.

In fact, in depictions of Death playing chess, just like in the Danse Macabre, there are no

allusions or symbols directly pointing to the apocalyptic presence of religion, nor to the necessity of its rituals; for instance, there are no elements suggesting the need of receiving, in the final act, the extreme confort of a priest or the absolution as a viaticum for the next world, which would stress the feeling of impotence of man. Portrayed in the Danse Macabre is a man who sees himself as a part of the world, who acknowledges his being the maker of change in personal and social reality, who is inscribed in historical perspective.

(A. Tanfoglio, Lo spettacolo della morte… Quaderni di estetica e mimesi del bello nell’arte macabra in Europa, Vol. 4, 1985)

The man making his moves against Death was no more a Medieval man, but a modern one.
Later on, the Devil himself was destined to be beat at the game: according to the legend, Sixteenth Century chess master Paolo Boi from Syracuse played a game against a mysterious stranger, who left horrified when on the chessboard the pieces formed the shape of a cross…

But what is probably the most interesting episode happened in recent times, in 1985.
A Dr. Wolfgang Eisenbeiss and an aquaintance decided to arrange a very peculiar match: it was to be played between two great chess masters, one living and one dead.
The execution of the game would be made possible thanks to Robert Rollans, a “trustworthy” medium with no knowledge of chess (so as not to influence the outcome).
The odd party soon found a living player who was willing to try the experiment, chess grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi; contacting the challenger proved to be a little more difficult, but on June 15 the spirit of Géza Maróczy, who had died more than 30 years before on May 29, 1951, agreed to pick up the challenge.
Comunicating the moves between the two adversaries, through the psychic’s automatic writing, also took more time than expected. The game lasted 7 years and 8 months, until the Maróczy’s ghost eventually gave up, after 47 moves.

This “supernatural” game shows that the symbolic value of chess survived through the centuries.
One of the most ancient games is still providing inspiration for human creativity, from literature (Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass was built upon a chess enigma) to painting, from sculpture to modern so-called mysteries (how could chess not play a part in Rennes-le-Château mythology?).
From time to time, the 64 squares have been used as an emblem of seduction and flirtation, of political challenges, or of the great battle between the White and the Black, a battle going on within ourselves, on the chessboard of our soul.

It is ultimately an ambiguous, dual fascination.
The chessboard provides a finite, clear, rationalist battlefield. It shows life as a series of strategical decisions, of rules and predictable movements. We fancy a game with intrinsic accuracy and logic.
And yet every game is uncertain, and there’s always the possibility that the true “endgame” will suddenly catch us off guard, as it did with the Pharaoh:

CLOV (fixed gaze, tonelessly):
Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.
Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there’s a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap.

(Thanks, Mauro!)

Living Machines: Automata Between Nature and Artifice

Article by Laura Tradii
University of Oxford,
MSc History of Science, Medicine and Technology

In a rather unknown operetta morale, the great Leopardi imagines an award competition organised by the fictitious Academy of Syllographers. Being the 19th Century the “Age of Machines”, and despairing of the possibility of improving mankind, the Academy will reward the inventors of three automata, described in a paroxysm of bitter irony: the first will have to be a machine able to act like a trusted friend, ready to assist his acquaintances in the moment of need, and refraining from speaking behind their back; the second machine will be a “steam-powered artificial man” programmed to accomplish virtuous deeds, while the third will be a faithful woman. Considering the great variety of automata built in his century, Leopardi points out, such achievements should not be considered impossible.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, automata (from the Greek, “self moving” or “acting of itself”) had become a real craze in Europe, above all in aristocratic circles. Already a few centuries earlier, hydraulic automata had often been installed in the gardens of palaces to amuse the visitors. Jessica Riskin, author of several works on automata and their history, describes thus the machines which could be found, in the fourteenth and fifteenth century, in the French castle of Hesdin:

“3 personnages that spout water and wet people at will”; a “machine for wetting ladies when they step on it”; an “engien [sic] which, when its knobs are touched, strikes in the face those who are underneath and covers them with black or white [flour or coal dust]”.1



In the fifteenth century, always according to Riskin, Boxley Abbey in Kent displayed a mechanical Jesus which could be moved by pulling some strings. The Jesus muttered, blinked, moved his hands and feet, nodded, and he could smile and frown. In this period, the fact that automata required a human to operate them, instead of moving of their own accord as suggested by the etymology, was not seen as cheating, but rather as a necessity.2

In the eighteenth century, instead, mechanics and engineers attempted to create automata which could move of their own accord once loaded, and this change could be contextualised in a time in which mechanistic theories of nature had been put forward. According to such theories, nature could be understood in fundamentally mechanical terms, like a great clockwork whose dynamics and processes were not much different from the ones of a machine. According to Descartes, for example, a single mechanical philosophy could explain the actions of both living beings and natural phenomena.3
Inventors attempted therefore to understand and artificially recreate the movements of animals and human beings, and the mechanical duck built by Vaucanson is a perfect example of such attempts.

With this automaton, Vaucanson purposed to replicate the physical process of digestion: the duck would eat seeds, digest them, and defecate. In truth, the automaton simply simulated these processes, and the faeces were prepared in advance. The silver swan built by John Joseph Merlin (1735-1803), instead, imitated with an astonishing realism the movements of the animal, which moved (and still moves) his neck with surprising flexibility. Through thin glass tubes, Merlin even managed to recreate the reflection of the water on which the swan seemed to float.

Vaucanson’s Flute Player, instead, played a real flute, blowing air into the instruments thanks to mechanical lungs, and moving his fingers. On a similar vein, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a little model of Napoleon was displayed in the United Kingdom: the puppet breathed, and it was covered in a material which imitated the texture of skin.  The advertisement for its exhibition at the Dublin’s Royal Arcade described it as a ‘splendid Work of Art’, ‘produc[ing] a striking imitation of human nature, in its Form, Color, and Texture, animated with the act of Respiration, Flexibility of the Limbs, and Elasticity of Flesh, as to induce a belief that this pleasing and really wonderful Figure is a living subject, ready to get up and speak’.4

The attempt to artificially recreate natural processes included other functions beyond movement. In 1779, the Academy of Sciences of Saint Petersburg opened a competition to mechanise the most human of all faculties, language, rewarding who would have succeeded in building a machine capable of pronouncing vowels. A decade later, Kempelen, the inventor of the famous Chess-Playing Turk, built a machine which could pronounce 19 consonants (at least according to Kempelen himself).5

In virtue of their uncanny nature, automata embody the tension between artifice and nature which for centuries has animated Western thought. The quest not only for the manipulation, but for the perfecting of the natural order, typical of the Wunderkammer or the alchemical laboratory, finds expression in the automaton, and it is this presumption that Leopardi comments with sarcasm. For Leopardi, like for some of his contemporaries, the idea that human beings could enhance what Nature already created perfect is a pernicious misconception. The traditional narrative of progress, according to which the lives of humans can be improved through technology, which separates mankind from the cruel state of nature, is challenged by Leopardi through his satire of automata. With his proverbial optimism, the author believes that all that distances humans from Nature can only be the cause of suffering, and that no improvement in the human condition shall be achieved through mechanisation and modernisation.

This criticism is substantiated by the fear that humans may become victims of their own creation, a discourse which was widespread during the Industrial Revolution. Romantic writer Jean Paul (1763-1825), for example, uses automata to satirise the society of the late eighteenth century, imagining a dystopic world in which machines are used to control the citizens and to carry out even the most trivial tasks: to chew food, to play music, and even to pray.6

The mechanical metaphors which were often used in the seventeenth century to describe the functioning of the State, conceptualised as a machine formed of different cogs or institutions, acquire here a dystopic connotation, becoming the manifestation of a bureaucratic, mechanical, and therefore dehumanising order. It is interesting to see how observations of this kind recur today in debates over Artificial Intelligence, and how, quoting Leopardi, a future is envisioned in which “the uses of machines [will come to] include not only material things, but also spiritual ones”.

A closer future than we may think, since technology modifies in entirely new directions our way of life, our understanding of ourselves, and our position in the natural order.


[1]  Jessica Riskin, Frolicsome Engines: The Long Prehistory of Artificial Intelligence.
[2]  Grafton, The Devil as Automaton: Giovanni Fontana and the Meanings of a Fifteenth-Century Machine, p.56.
[3]  Grafton, p.58.
[4]  Jennifer Walls, Captivating Respiration: the “Breathing Napoleon”.
[5]  John P. Cater, Electronically Speaking: Computer Speech Generation, Howard M. Sams & Co., 1983, pp. 72-74.
[6]  Jean Paul, 1789. Discusso in Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: the Automaton in the European Imagination di Minsoo Kang.

The wizard of soccer

But Nino don’t be afraid of missing a penalty kick
One does not become a good player
On the account of these details
You can tell a good player from his courage,
His selflessness, his creativity.

(F. De Gregori, La leva calcistica della classe ’68, 1982)

Carlos Henrique Raposo, a.k.a. “Kaiser”, active in the Eighties and Nineties, played in eleven soccer teams, such as Vasco da Gama, Flamengo, Fluminense and Botafogo in Brazil, Ajaccio in Corsica and Puebla in Messico.
Eleven professional clubs, and zero goals scored in his whole career.
Yes, because Carlos Henrique Raposo, a.k.a. “Kaiser”, pretended to be a player. And in reality he was an illusionist.

Born in 1963 in a poor family, as many other Brazilian kids Carlos dreamed of a redemption made of luxury and success. He had tried to become a soccer player, without any major result: yet he had the right muscular and powerful build, so much so that he was often mistaken for a professional soccer player. Around his twenties, Carlos clearly understood his mission: “I wanted to be a player, without having to play“.
Therefore, he decided to trust his courage, selflessness and creativity.

Carlos “Kaiser” certainly had the nerve. As a nightlife aficionado and regular clubber in Rio, he managed to bond with a series of famous soccer players (Romário, Edmundo, Bebeto, Renato Gaúcho and Ricardo Rocha who later called him “the greatest conman in Brazilian football“); he offered his favors and used his connections to organize parties and meetings. In return, he began asking to be included as a makeweight in his friends’ transfer deals.
It’s importanto to keep in mind that in the mid-Eighties the internet did not exist, and it was quite difficult to find information on a new player: Carlos was enthusiastically presented by great players vouching for him, who granted him with his first professional contract (for a three-month trial) in the Botafogo club. And thus began his career, always behind the front line but nonetheless enjoying relatively high wages, and an incredible fiction which lasted more than twenty years.


First of all, it was essential for Carlos to earn his teammates’ unconditional trust, their cover and benevolence.
As soon as I knew which hotel we would be staying in, I went there two or three days beforehand. I rented rooms for ten ladies in that hotel, so that instead of sneaking away at night, my teammates and I could simply walk down the stairs to have some fun“.
Another important step was ensuring to have some newspaper article backing up his non-existing talents. Again, that was not a problem for the “Kaiser”, thanks to his socialite connections: “I have an incredible aptitude for making friends with people. I knew several journalists very well at the time, and treated them all kindly. A little gift, some insider information could come in handy, and in return they wrote about the ‘great soccer player’ “.

Once he obtained a contract, leaning on other players’ transfer negotiations, the second part of Carlos’ plan kicked off: how could he manage to remain in the team without the coach realizing that he wasn’t even able to kick a ball? The solution Carlos came up with was simple yet brilliant – he had to gain as much time as possible.
He started by saying he was out of shape, and that he needed to follow a special workout program with a mysterious personal trainer. He then spent the first two or three weeks running along the sidelines, without participating in the team’s exercises. After that, when he could no longer postpone his presence in the field, he asked a teammate to make an irregular entrance on him during a training game and to inflict him a (not too serious) injury. Sometimes he didn’t even need outside help, he just pretended to sprain his muscle, an injury which was difficult to verify in those years: “I preformed some strange moves during the training, I touched my muscle and then stayed in the infirmary for 20 days or so. There was no MRI at the time. Days went by, but I had a dentist friend who certified I had physical health problems. And so, months went by…
In this way, scoring zero minutes of playing time during each season, he jumped from team to team. “I always signed the Risk Contract, the shortest one, normally for a six-month period. I received the bonus, and went straight to infirmary“. To enhance his great player image, he often showed up talking in English through a huge cellular phone (a true status symbol, back then), presumably to some foreign manager offering him some outstanding deal. Unfortunately his broken English conversations made no sense whatsoever, and his cellphone was in fact a toy phone.

When he went back to Brazil, in the Bangu team, Carlos’ hoax almost collapsed. The coach, taking him by surprise, decided to summon him for the sunday match and around the half of the second time he told him to warm up. Given the dangerous situation, and the forthcoming disaster a debut would entail, Carlos reacted with an exceptional stunt: all of a sudden, he started a fight with an opposing team’s supporter. He got immediately expelled from the game. When in the locker room the coach furiously approached him, he pretended like he acted on behalf of the coach himself: “God gave me a father and then took him away from me. Now that God has given me a second father, I can’t allow anyone to insult him“. The incident ended with the coach kissing him on his forehead, and renewing his contract.
He had another stroke of genius at the time of his debut in the Ajaccio club, in Corsica, France. The new Brazilian soccer player was greeted by the supporters with unexpected enthusiasm: “the stadium was small, but crowded with people, everywhere I looked. I thought I just had to show up and cheer, but then I saw many balls on the field and I understood we would be training. I was nervous, they would realize I was not able to play on my first day”. So Carlos decided to play the last trump, trying yet another one of his tricks. He entered the playing field, and began kicking each and every ball, sending them over to the gallery, waving his hand and kissing his shirt. The supporters went into raptures, and of course never threw back the precious balls, which had been touched by the publicised champion’s foot. Once out of balls, the team had to engage in a strictly physical training, which Carlos could manage to do without problem.

Reality and lies
After leaving Guarany, aged 39, Carlos Henrique Raposo retired having played approximately 20 games – all of which ended with an injury – in approximately 20 years of professional career (the numbers are a little hazy). But he came away with a wonderful story to tell.
And here’s the only problem: practically every major anecdote about this intentionally misleading stunt comes from no other than Kaiser himself. Sure enough, his colleagues confirm the image of a young man who made up for his lack of ability with immense self-assurance and cockiness: “he is a great friend, an exquisite person. Too bad that he doesn’t even know how to play cards. He had a problem with the ball, I did not see him play in any team, ever. He told you stories about games and matches, but he never played even on Sunday afternoon in Maracanà, I can tell you that! In a lying contest against Pinocchio, Kaiser would win“, Richardo Rocha declared.
So, why should we believe this Pinocchio when he comes out of nowhere and tell us his “truth”?

Maybe because it feels good to do so. Maybe because the story of a “man without qualities”, a Mr. Nobody who pretends to be a champion, cheating big soccer corporations (which are frequently nowadays amid market scandals) is some kind of a revenge by proxy, that has many soccer aficionados grinning. Maybe because his incredible story, on a human level, could come straight out of a movie.

In the meantime, Carlos shows absolutely no regrets: “if I had been more dedicated, I could have gone further in the game“.
Not in the soccer game, of course, but in his game of illusion.

Rubberdoll: nei panni di una bionda

Vi sono talvolta delle estreme frange dell’erotismo che prestano il fianco ad una facile ironia. Eppure, appena smettiamo di guardare gli altri dall’alto in basso o attraverso il filtro dell’umorismo, e cerchiamo di comprendere le emozioni che motivano certe scelte, spesso ci sorprendiamo a riuscirci perfettamente. Possiamo non condividere il modo che alcune persone hanno elaborato di esprimere un disagio o un desiderio, ma quei disagi e desideri li conosciamo tutti.

Parliamo oggi di una di queste culture underground, un movimento di limitate dimensioni ma in costante espansione: il female masking, o rubberdolling.




Le immagini qui sopra mostrano alcuni uomini che indossano una pelle in silicone con fattezze femminili, completa di tutti i principali dettagli anatomici. Se il vostro cervello vi suggerisce mille sagaci battute e doppi sensi, che spaziano da Non aprite quella porta alle bambole gonfiabili, ridete ora e non pensateci più. Fatto? Ok, procediamo.

I female masker sono maschi che coltivano il sogno di camuffarsi da splendide fanciulle. Potrebbe sembrare una sorta di evoluzione del travestitismo, ma come vedremo è in realtà qualcosa di più. Il fenomeno non interessa particolarmente omosessuali e transgender, o perlomeno non solo, perché buona parte dei masker sono eterosessuali, a volte perfino impegnati in serie relazioni familiari o di coppia.
E nei costumi da donna non fanno nemmeno sesso.

Ma andiamo per ordine. Innanzitutto, il travestimento.
L’evoluzione delle tecniche di moulding e modellaggio del silicone hanno reso possibile la creazione di maschere iperrealistiche anche senza essere dei maghi degli effetti speciali: la ditta Femskin ad esempio, leader nel settore delle “pelli femminili” progettate e realizzate su misura, è in realtà una società a conduzione familiare. In generale il prezzo delle maschere e delle tute è alto, ma non inarrivabile: contando tutti gli accessori (corpo in silicone, mani, piedi, maschera per la testa, parrucca, riempitivi per i fianchi, vestiti), si può arrivare a spendere qualche migliaio di euro.
Per accontentare tutti i gusti, alcune maschere sono più realistiche, altre tendono ad essere più fumettose o minimaliste, quasi astratte.



Alla domanda “perché lo fanno?”, quindi, la prima risposta è evidentemente “perché si può”.
Quante volte su internet, in televisione, o sfogliando una rivista scopriamo qualcosa che, fino a pochi minuti prima, nemmeno sapevamo di desiderare così tanto?
Senza dubbio la rete ha un peso determinante nel far circolare visioni diverse, creare comunità di condivisione, confondere i confini, e questo, nel campo della sessualità, significa che la fantasia di pochi singoli individui può incontrare il favore di molti – che prima di “capitare” su un particolare tipo di feticismo erano appunto ignari di averlo inconsciamente cercato per tutta la vita.

Trasformarsi in donna per un periodo di tempo limitato è un sogno maschile antico come il mondo; eppure entrare nella pelle di un corpo femminile, con tutti gli inarrivabili piaceri che si dice esso sia in grado di provare, è rimasto una chimera fin dai tempi di Tiresia (l’unico che ne fece esperienza e, manco a dirlo, rimase entusiasta).
Indossare un costume, per quanto elaborato, non significa certo diventare donna, ma porta con sé tutto il valore simbolico e liberatorio della maschera. “L’uomo non è mai veramente se stesso quando parla in prima persona – scriveva Oscar Wilde ne Il Critico come Artista –, ma dategli una maschera e vi dirà la verità“. D’altronde lo stesso concetto di persona, dunque di identità, è strettamente collegato all’idea della maschera teatrale (da cui esce la voce, fatta per-sonare): questo oggetto, questo secondo volto fittizio, ci permette di dimenticare per un attimo i limiti del nostro io quotidiano. Se un travestito rimane sempre se stesso, nonostante gli abiti femminili, un female masker diviene invece un’altra persona – o meglio, per utilizzare il gergo del movimento, una rubberdoll.



Nel documentario di Channel 4 Secret Of The Living Dolls, questo sdoppiamento di personalità risulta estremamente evidente per uno dei protagonisti, un pensionato settantenne rimasto vedovo che, avendo ormai rinunciato alla ricerca di un’anima gemella, ha trovato nel suo alter ego femminile una sorta di compensazione platonica. Lo vediamo versare abbondante talco sulla pelle in silicone, indossarla faticosamente, applicare maschera e parrucca, e infine rimirarsi allo specchio, rapito da un’estasi totale: “Non riesco a credere che dietro questa donna bellissima vi sia un vecchio di settant’anni, ed è per questo che lo faccio“, esclama, perso nell’idillio. Se nello specchio vedesse sempre e soltanto il suo corpo in deperimento, la vita per lui sarebbe molto più triste.
Un altro intervistato ammette che il suo timore era quello che nessuna ragazza sexy sarebbe mai stata attratta da lui, “così me ne sono costruito una“.

Alcuni female masker sono davvero innamorati del loro personaggio femminile, tanto da darle un nome, comprarle vestiti e regali, e così via. Ce ne sono di sposati e con figli: i più fortunati hanno fatto “coming out”, trovando una famiglia pronta a sostenerli (per i bambini, in fondo, è come se fosse carnevale tutto l’anno), altri invece non ne hanno mai parlato e si travestono soltanto quando sono sicuri di essere da soli.
Provo un senso di gioia, un senso di evasione“, rivela un’altra, più giocosa rubberdoll nel documentario di Channel 4. “Lo faccio per puro divertimento. È come l’estensione di un’altra persona dentro di me che vuole soltanto uscire e divertirsi. La cosa divertente è che la gente mi chiede: cosa fai quando ti travesti? E la risposta è: niente di speciale. Alle volte mi scatto semplicemente delle foto da condividere sui siti di masking, altre volte mi succede soltanto di essere chi voglio essere per quel giorno“.




Al di fuori delle comunità online e delle rare convention organizzate in America e in Europa, il feticismo delle rubberdoll è talmente bizzarro da non mancare di suscitare ilarità nemmeno all’interno dei comuni spazi dedicati alle sessualità alternative. Un feticismo che non è del tutto o non soltanto sessuale, ma che sta in equilibrio fra inversione di ruoli di genere, travestitismo e trasformazione identitaria. E una spruzzatina di follia.
Eppure, come dicevamo all’inizio, se la modalità adottata dai female masker per esprimere una loro intima necessità può lasciare perplessi, questa stessa necessità è qualcosa che conosciamo tutti. È il desiderio di bellezza, di essere degni d’ammirazione – della propria ammirazione innanzitutto -, la sensazione di non bastarsi e la tensione ad essere più di se stessi. La voglia di vivere più vite in una, di essere più persone allo stesso tempo, di scrollarsi di dosso il monotono personaggio che siamo tenuti a interpretare, pirandellianamente, ogni giorno. È una fame di vita, se vogliamo. E in fondo, come ricorda una rubberdoll in un (prevedibilmente sensazionalistico) servizio di Lucignolo, “noi siamo considerati dei pervertiti. […] Ci sono moltissime altre persone che fanno di peggio, e non hanno bisogno di mettersi la maschera“.


Ecco l’articolo di Ayzad che ha ispirato questo post. Se volete vedere altre foto, esiste un nutritissimo Flickr pool dedicato al masking.

Bambini adulti

Parliamo nuovamente di parafilie. Questa volta affrontiamo una di quelle pratiche feticistiche/sessuali che sembrano talmente improbabili da risultare “finte” o “esagerate”. Eppure sono cose che avvengono realmente, forse più frequentemente di quanto saremmo portati a pensare. Guardate il filmato qui sotto.

Quest’uomo che è vestito e si comporta come un bambino di pochi mesi è un appassionato di infantilismo parafilico. Se lo definiamo “appassionato di”, e non “affetto da”, è perché nella psicologia moderna è in atto una sorta di rivalutazione delle cosiddette parafilie. Oggi risulta più evidente che certe pratiche non hanno alla base una vera e propria patologia comportamentale o mentale, ma sono spesso paragonabili a terapeutici giochi di ruolo. Secondo alcuni psicologi, quindi, non andrebbe enfatizzato il carattere deviante di certi interessi, quanto piuttosto il loro aspetto giocoso. Resta il fatto che vedere un adulto scimmiottare gli atteggiamenti di un bebè può far ridere a prima vista, e inquietare in un secondo momento. Cerchiamo quindi di capire qualcosa di più sugli adult babies, come amano definirsi i devoti di questo genere di pantomima.

Bisogna innanzitutto distinguere l’infantilismo parafilico dal feticismo per il pannolone. Quest’ultimo è semplicemente il desiderio di indossare il pannolone senza una reale necessità, ma non implica automaticamente comportamenti puerili ed è riconducibile ad una più generica fissazione per certi capi di vestiario. Queste persone, che amano indossare il pannolone regolarmente, sono chiamati amanti del pannolone (diaper lovers, o DL). I “bambini adulti”, invece, sono attratti da una vera e propria regressione totale allo stadio infantile: non soltanto pannoloni, quindi, ma ciucci, biberon, peluche, lettini con le sbarre e tutto l’armamentario normalmente riservato ai neonati. (Gli adult babies sono, nel gergo, contrassegnati dalla sigla AB, mentre quelli che amano entrambi i “filoni” sono denominati AB/DL). La maggioranza degli AB sono, manco a dirlo, maschi ed eterosessuali.

Innanzitutto chiariamo una cosa: nessun “bambino adulto” va accomunato alla pedofilia, in alcun modo. Gli AB non hanno desiderio nei confronti dei bambini, vogliono soltanto diventare bambini. Secondo molti studiosi, gli AB non avrebbero addirittura alcuna libido, e non ci sarebbe in definitiva granché di sessuale nei loro giochi. Per qualcuno si tratta di liberarsi completamente da ogni costrizione comportamentale: essere liberi, sereni, senza sovrastrutture, completamente istintivi. Per altri si tratta di rivivere esperienze infantili, seppure idealizzate ed idilliache. Per altri ancora, lo scopo è trovare l’amore materno mai provato, o ancora avvertire quel misto di eccitazione e vergogna che si prova quando “gli altri scoprono che ti sei fatto la pipì addosso”. Ovviamente i gusti individuali variano considerevolmente, e ogni AB predilige certi accessori o determinate situazioni specifiche.

Un’altra distinzione che conviene fare è quella fra infantilismo e anaclitismo: quest’ultimo è un bisogno di appoggio che rende il soggetto sessualmente stimolato da oggetti con cui ha avuto un contatto durante l’infanzia. Se per esempio da bambino sono stato più volte esposto, in specifici momenti, al velluto, da adulto potrei sviluppare un feticismo per questo tipo di tessuto. L’infantilismo parafilico si differenzia da questo bisogno, in quanto si riferisce normalmente a una sorta di “archetipo” del mondo infantile. Gli AB si trovano a loro agio con le farfalle appese al soffitto, gli orsacchiotti e i ciucci colorati, il borotalco e i seggioloni, indipendentemente dal fatto che questi oggetti abbiano avuto un reale significato nella loro storia individuale.

Rileggendo le righe appena scritte, ci rendiamo conto che abbiamo segnalato tutto ciò che i “bambini adulti” non sono. Purtroppo esistono pochi studi scientifici su questa parafilia, anche perché pochi sono i soggetti che cercano cure specialistiche per questa loro “passione”. Restano quindi ancora nebulosi alcuni interrogativi che sorgono spontanei: è possibile comprendere se ci sia una causa per questo comportamento? L’eccitazione che gli AB provano è puramente mentale o anche sessuale? Cosa spinge un uomo ad esercitarsi per mesi al fine di diventare incontinente? Perché alcuni AB nascondono la loro ossessione, mentre altri la esibiscono anche in coda al supermercato?

Se vi interessa indagare questo stravagante mondo, il sito Understanding Infantilism può essere un buon inizio (a patto che mastichiate l’inglese). Un altro buon articolo (sempre in inglese) che cerca di delineare un fedele identikit dell’infantilismo si può trovare qui.