The 21st century has seen a rapid shift in the way we conceptualize gender and sexuality. As traditional roles have mutated and disappeared, both feminists and antifeminists have highlighted a so-called death of masculinity. Antifeminists and Men's Rights Activists have accused feminism of killing masculinity (ignoring that women continue to make less than men and face sexual violence on college campuses and...). On the flip side, some feminists have pontificated about " the end of men ."
Either way, something has happened to American males—and independent actor and director Ross Patterson believes he knows the problem's unlikely solution: his new "romance novel for dudes" called At Night She Cries While He Rides His Steed.
The book chronicles the adventures of Saint James Street James, a Gold Rush–era cowboy who miraculously triples his life expectancy and lives all the way from the 1800s to 2014. Over the course of 186 years, St. James plays with dynamite, participates in bukkake, and contracts AIDS—twice. (He survives the virus because, as James puts it in the book, "You can [beat AIDS] when you're rich, and I am really fucking rich. The only other way to beat AIDS is to win the Olympics. Go ask Magic Johnson or Greg Louganis if you don't believe me.") Chapter titles include "When One Door Closes, Another Person Is Probably Fucking Behind It" and "Drugs Are Fucking Awesome, and Everyone Wants Them."
In the book, Patterson, who was in the Kappa Sigma fraternity at Ohio State according to his Wikipedia page, attempts to reconfigure masculinity's definition as men being in control of their lives and move the concept away from its history of pillaging villages and ruining women. Some may argue he's making excuses for the book's offensive jokes, which many would definitely call sexist, but Patterson maintains the book doesn't present his sexual fantasies or a reality he hopes enters present day America. He sees his romance novel as escapism for his readers. Although he doesn't want people to copy Saint James Street James's actions, he wants the book to inspire men the same way erotica could make a woman feel more sexually adventurous; just because you read an incest novel doesn't mean you want to fuck your brother. In a phone call, Patterson argued he wants men and women to be equal; he just wants straight men to be more like gay men, whom he says he sees speaking their minds and having control of their lives, while embarrassing straight men complain about how their successful wives emasculate them.
It helps his argument that women have been championing the book throughout the entire publication process. Judith Regan's new Regan Arts company published the novel, where Alexis Gargagliano works as the publisher's executive editor, and a woman, Lara Kleinschmidt, edited Patterson's manuscript.
To Kleinschmidt, At Night She Cries While He Rides His Steed is refreshing in its brashness. "Aside from being over-the-top hilarious, Ross has written a book that, to me, feels important," Kleinschmidt said in an email. "We live in a culture where the first response is to take offense to something. You can't read an article, turn on the TV, or even have a simple conversation without someone talking about how offended they are. Comedians face this hurdle all the time. It seems like most topics have become too sensitive to joke about. I think that's bullshit. So does Ross."
I called Patterson to find out more about why he wrote the book, whether it is rightfully offensive, and if a romance novel could actually change men.
VICE: What made you decide to write a romance novel for men?
Ross Patterson: I was on a press tour for a movie called FDR: American Badass— which if you haven't seen, it's a masterpiece. There was a character I did named Saint James Street James from another film, and every single press article I was doing, [every journalist] was asking me to read excerpts of 50 Shades of Grey as Saint James Street James. So I finally was like, "Man, has anyone ever written a romance novel for dudes?" Once [I saw] nobody had, I was like, "I'm going to do that right now."
Did you like 50 Shades of Grey?
I did read 50 Shades of Grey. For women it's about the buildup, it's about the intimacy, it's about the light kissing. The element of excitement and the element of danger. Whereas for men, it's a completely different sensation, where you're just like, "Awesome, that girl or guy—whatever you're into—is hot. Let's just get down to it. "
Is there romance in the book?
Is there romance in the book? Yes. Is there sex? You bet. Is there a lot of hardcore fucking? Of course there is. It kind of goes through what a guy thinks about during the different stages of romance and sex itself.
Why did you decide to write this book, a romance novel for men, right now?
I just think it's time. The way the culture is going... I don't want to say pussification, but it's complete pussification right now. There's nothing for men, there's nothing for dudes anymore. You're frowned upon for eating a steak. I don't wear glasses with no prescription in them. Why would I fake a disability just to look trendy? I don't get it.
Some people may interpret that as you wanting a return to the days when women stayed at home and cooked—for years that's what masculinity was about. How would you define masculinity?
Being in charge with everything in your life and also the way you present yourself and the way you talk to people. I look at my [gay] cousin's husband, and it's like he's... I saw him build half a house. [That's something] that most of my friends couldn't do. You know? You would think of gay men as, oh, they're polite and effeminate, and it's not the case. And look, it's a cool thing to see. Plus, let's be honest, the gays are the best to party with. Of all time. I think the culture has shifted that much that like gay is the new masculinity.
Has it gotten too politically correct? Is that what this fantasy world is about?
Yeah, 100 percent. I was a fan of Richard Pryor and George Carlin, and now every single person is so quick to jump on everything and say, "Oh my God, that's not PC, that's not PC, that's not PC!" It's just to make a statement, or just to make noise, or just to get notice for themselves. If we [have to] worry about every single thing that every single person thinks, it's just going to be bullshit at the end of the day—and there's going to be nothing exciting to read anymore or watch anymore. I don't want be part of that society.
In your author photo, the book describes you as Saint James Street James. Why did you decide to write the book as Saint James Street James?
I did want it to be a fictional character of somebody that people could root for and go along with—the character is so deplorable that I think if that was me in real life as a person people would just hate me. [It's] like an Eastbound & Down type of vibe, where you absolutely hate [Kenny Powers]. He does the worst things on the planet, but you're like, "He's doing it, not me or not a real person, and I can go along with it." You feel like you're along for the ride, rather than [with] somebody like Tucker Max, where [people] read his book and hate him after that. They're like, "Jesus, that guy was a fucking asshole."
At the same time, masculinity has had very bad effects on society in the past— violence against women, homophobia. Can masculinity exist without all the bullshit that comes with it?
My cousin's gay. He's married to the manliest man I've ever met. I think gay men are the ones that are the most masculine right now. If you ask me, I think Andy Cohen himself is arguably one of the most powerful people, and when you see him in interviews, he's more manly than everybody else.
Mitchell Sunderland is the managing editor of Broadly. Follow him on Twitter.