Who the Hell Are You, Rannit? : Sexuality (mis)Constructed

In his autobiographical essay collection Times Square Red Times Square Blue, Samuel Delany recounts his sexual and social contacts with Rannit, a “good-looking East-Asian,” who frequents the same porn theater as him (84-88). Delany concludes that Rannit operates “outside an entire discourse of ‘normal’ male/female relationship” (88). Indeed, Rannit’s sexuality is convoluted: he seeks sexual gratifications from men; he is a “connoisseur of heterosexual porn;” he sexually harasses women on the street; but he is “naturally affectionate” and “friendly” (85-6). Rannit appears to hold at once too many contradictions; is he homosexual, heterosexual, both? How can he keep groping women and being so “affectionate” and “friendly” all the time? Following constructionist and intersectional lens, without attempting to categorize Rannit’s sexuality but only to examine how it forms, I underscore that Rannit’s sexuality and gender are simultaneously social-economically driven, racialized, “performative,” and historically situated (“Combahee River Collective Statement;” Michel Foucault The History of Sexuality; Judith Butler Gender Trouble).

Rannit comes from an immigrant and working-class background. He lives with his mother (85). He works full-time on the sidewalk distributing leaflets for a strip club (84). Given his inflexible working and living condition, he can only enact sexual outlet briskly during lunch hour at porn theaters and through his collection of straight porn cached at home (86). Alongside this constricted mobility, it would have been difficult for him to seek casual sexual encounters with women, for I speculate that Rannit is likely to be desexualized and feminized as an Asian American male within the American hetero and homo sexual-hierarchies (Richard Fung “Looking for My Penis). (I can’t speculate about his sexual encounters with women from his own race, for it would require knowledge I do not have of his culture’s values on sex and the physical proximity of his racial group in his time among other factors).

Porn theaters, on the other hand, facilitate easy and frequent sex but are proliferated with male sexuality. Delany describes sex with Rannit as “protracted and friendly,” “fulfilling,” and “satisfying” (84, 88). Perhaps Rannit has been able to bend his sexuality however the situation affords it. Rannit goes to the theater not only to seek sexual pleasure but also homosociality. In another word, he goes to the theater to have social sex and experiences that would then shape his gender and sexual behavior. Rannit says of his sexualization at the theater and his persistent harassment of women: “That’s what I go to the movies for! Trying to cop a feel, that’s just what guys do, ain’t it? I see lots of other guys do it” (88). Rannit admits that his sexuality and gender are “performative,” shaped by his sexual interaction, socialization, and the porn materials in the theater (Butler Gender Trouble). After writing five pages about Rannit, even Delany declares Rannit’s sexual “habits” to be “a cross between social and obsessive” (88). He harasses women because he has incorporated such behaviors (pervasive in porn, mainstream media, and other men) into his sense of gender identity and without it, he wouldn’t know how to be.

However, Rannit’s sexuality, as I have delineated so far, only develops as it does while the theaters still exist and afford it. I wonder, when they are closed down, how his sexuality would ramify in another direction or if he is able to continue it elsewhere.

Delany often presents us with complex people and situations that resist categorization and linear judgment, for it is impossible and even futile to fit Rannit into a sexual category. He inhabits no specific sexual identity but perpetuates sexual acts that are curtailed by his working and immigrant background, politicized by race, situated within a specific historical period and place, and determined by gender performativity.