We regret to report that in the year 2017, the idea that people can have sex for other than procreative reasons remains controversial. Our own Sen. Steve Daines supports the effort to defund Planned Parenthood, even though the clinics provide basic health care to millions of women and men.
Legislators can make it more difficult for women to control their reproductive choices, but no law will never quell the astonishing breadth and depth of human sexual expression. Even while puritanical notions of sex and gender persist in mainstream culture, technology has opened up a broad expanse of new ways to communicate about and have sex. Consider the peach emoji. It's such a beloved symbol of booty that users protested when Apple tried to redesign it in mid-2016 to look more like an actual piece of fruit. Apple buckled, and the emoji remains juicily evocative of (pardon our French) a ripe piece of ass.
The peach emoji seemed like a fitting tie-in to this issue's main subject, Chuck Tingle, who uses digital platforms to spread his bizarre (unless you're into that kind of thing) brand of erotica about intergalactic, interspecies gay sex. This issue also delves into other internet subcultures and even the popularity of Bigfoot porn. Come along as we celebrate the weirder side of sexuality.
When my cue comes, call me, and I will answer.
—Bottom, A Midsummer Night's Dream
Before Trump, before the alt-right, there was Gamergate. Born of an online harassment campaign against video game developer Zoë Quinn, Gamergate quickly ensnarled the industry in a proxy culture war. By 2015, Breitbart editor and self-proclaimed "supervillain of the internet" Milo Yiannopoulos was heralding the movement as an "online uprising against atrocious journalism and wacky social justice warriors in the world of video games," presaging the battle lines now writ large upon American politics.
One of the movement's targets was the annual Hugo Awards, which honor works of science fiction and fantasy. Some saw the awards as overtaken by literary elitists who preferred diversity of authorship and progressiveness of theme over old-fashioned adventure and invention—a sort of pro-status-quo inversion of Hollywood's #OscarsSoWhite backlash. So Gamergaters decided to game the system. Because Hugo nominees are crowdsourced, a voting bloc known as the "Sad Puppies" was able to hijack the 2015 shortlists in favor of authors who shared their ideology. The next year, 2016, a more extreme "Rabid Puppies" faction waged a scorched-earth campaign, installing 64 of the 81 finalists across all Hugo categories.
The Puppies' biggest coup was a prank in the Shakespearean mold. Think A Midsummer Night's Dream. In that play's most memorable moment, the faerie king tricks his wife, Titania, into sleeping with the laughable Bottom, a lowly actor whose head has been transformed into that of a donkey. The Rabid Puppies played a similar trick. They handed the Hugos an ass to kiss.
The ass they chose was Chuck Tingle, a pseudonymous Billings writer who self-publishes parody erotica e-books featuring sex between monsters and men. One of his stories follows an astronaut who must negotiate between his spontaneous lust for a dinosaur he encounters on the planet Zorbus and his heteronormative anxiety. "Our difference in species surely couldn't classify me as gay, could it?" the narrator says, before succumbing to his desire. The work, Space Raptor Butt Invasion (available at Amazon.com for $2.99), was planted as a finalist for best short story.
It was as if a pornographic Star Trek spoof had been nominated for an Oscar. Media outlets jumped on the story. The Puppies basked in the success of their "pro-level trolling," as one admirer described it. Rabid Puppies leader Theodore Beale (pen name Vox Day) sarcastically touted Tingle as the "Shakespeare of our time."
More accomplished authors pressured Tingle to bow out of the running, but Tingle had his own ideas. First he penned a new story—he calls them "Tinglers"—about the situation. Title: Slammed in the Butt by my Hugo Award Nomination. A Sad Puppies blogger called it "amusing." Next, Tingle invited Quinn, the Gamergate trolls' original foe, to accept the award in his stead, in the event that he actually won. Then he registered www.therabidpuppies.com, using the domain to promote three women authors Vox Day's group had targeted and, for good measure, the Billings Public Library. Tingle capped his counterattack with a 7-minute animated video that poked at the Puppies for being "sad, lonesome men" pushing an "anti-buckaroo agenda."
"Buckaroos," in the Tingleverse, are Tingle followers.
"Only way to fight bad dog blues is with good days ahead," he says in the video, speaking in his idiosyncratic style. "Now is time to prove love is real for all who kiss, like a bud on a unicorn or a bud on a plane or a bud and a handsome meatball."
It should be apparent from the quotations that Chuck Tingle is in no sense a traditional litterateur.
Like Titania waking from her slumber, the Puppies began to realize their misjudgment. "Methought I was enamored of an ass!" Titania says in Shakespeare's play, her spell broken. "Oh, how mine eyes do loathe his visage now!"
Tingle, it turned out, wasn't the strange bedfellow the right-wing trolls thought he'd be. He was something stranger still.
This is the silliest stuff I ever heard.
—Hippolyta, A Midsummer Night's Dream
"Who is Chuck Tingle?" That was the question on sci-fi writer Naomi Kritzer's mind as the Hugo episode unfolded. Kritzer was nominated alongside Tingle for her short story "Cat Pictures Please," and she expected that the event would be overshadowed by the same political insurrection that had swallowed the 2015 awards season. Tingle's response to the Puppies, she says, offered respite to her and other sci-fi fans who were growing weary of it all.
"Instead, we spent all summer talking about dinosaur buds and buckaroos and speculating about who Chuck Tingle was. That was a huge improvement," she says.
Tingle already had a following by that time, having published more than 50 "Tinglers" since My Billionaire Triceratops Craves Gay Ass introduced him as an author in late 2014. Tinglers arrived on the scene as the popularity of cryptozoological erotica, or monster porn, was already growing into an international phenomenon. The bizarre genre owed its ascendance to the ease of digital self-publishing on sites like Amazon, where first-time authors were able to reach fans and earn royalties by catering to the most niche of interests. Examples of the genre include Bigfoot Did Me from Behind and I Liked It, At the Mercy of the Boar God and Milked by the Aliens (aimed at sci-fi lactation fetishists). The books typically employ predictable tropes of male dominance: Well-endowed mythical beasts ravage human women, sometimes violently. Business Insider reported in 2013 that despite brisk sales, or perhaps because of them, Amazon and other online self-publishing platforms were cracking down on the works over fears that even creepier and more taboo material was making its way onto their sites. "Is crypto-smut the same thing as bestiality lit?" the magazine asked.
The simplest way to read Tinglers is as light-hearted parodies of the genre. They deploy the same cringe-worthy prose and absurd plot lines, as in Creamed in the Butt by My Handsome Living Corn, about a small-town farmer who gets more than he bargained for at a big-city ag conference (spoiler alert: kernel-popping orgasms). The main characters are always gay, though they usually don't know it. The stories unfold over 4,000 or so words and are sprinkled with typos.
Tinglers sometimes veer into abstract realms, where concepts are embodied as hunky sex objects. The best example of this is Tingle's Slammed in the Butthole by My Concept of Linear Time, which combines a metaphysical plot with dialogue that punches through the fourth wall separating author, reader and character. In the middle of a sex scene between the main character and a physical manifestation of Time itself, Tingle informs his characters that readers probably aren't using the book to get off. Embarrassed, the narrator stops mid-fellatio to address readers: "Are you really just reading this for a laugh?" Tingle informs him that, as a fictional character, he can't address the reader directly. So Tingle conveys the question himself.
But the author is a character, too. More than a pen name, Tingle presents as an intricately constructed persona, complete with his own biography, lexicon and supporting cast. He uses a stock photo of a generic white man as his avatar and claims to be a taekwondo master with a degree in holistic massage from online diploma mill DeVry University, which offers no such degree. He purports to live in Billings with his adult son, Jon. Tingle is more or less constantly writing his own story on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, describing his trips to Starbucks and the Billings Public Library and casting aspersions on his evil neighbor, Ted Cobbler. Together, these elements comprise what the author calls his Tingleverse.
Tingle's world has attracted a cult following, and his Tinglers now frequently rise to the top of Amazon's erotica bestseller charts. His admirers include Quinn, who is currently developing a videogame based on Tingle's work, complete with sexy unicorns.
"I wish more people read past his titles," Quinn wrote on a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything, "because there's some seriously good writing in the books, an established metaverse that the stories take place in, and this social media component he's acting out on Twitter and other places, too, and that's really impressive to me."
Quinn didn't end up accepting a Hugo for Tingle. He didn't win the prize. Kritzer did, and as she received her award, she recognized Tingle onstage, thanking him for his "outstanding performance art, and for giving us something to talk about."
Is there no play to ease the anguish of a torturing hour?
—Theseus, A Midsummer Night's Dream
On his first full day as president, Donald Trump seemed to be in another universe. He deployed Press Secretary Sean Spicer to deliver a press briefing focused almost entirely on the size of his boss' inauguration crowd. Later, when asked to explain why the administration had pushed no fewer than four falsehoods in making its untrue claim that the inauguration was the most-watched inauguration of all time, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway claimed that Spicer had simply offered "alternative facts."
Twenty-four hours later, Tingle had set up an online "alternative facts warehouse," providing customers with "the finest alternative realities from across the deepest timeline layers." For $5, Channing Tatum could be the president of the United States. For $15, you could affirm that "Domald Tromp cares about the poor and disenfranchised." Try to put either of these cheerful facts in your digital cart and you'll be redirected to Planned Parenthood's donations page.
The alternative facts warehouse is located at Tingle-produced www.buttbart.com, a parody of the alt-right, pro-Trump outlet Breitbart. With the tagline, "We take the truth seriously," it features articles with headlines like "Donald Trump Develops State Of The Art 'Embarrassment Machine' To Create New And Inventive Ways Of Humiliating Himself." "Domald Tromp" is also the subject of numerous Tinglers. During the campaign season, Tromp was revealed to be the Loch Ness Monster, and was later peed on by a blackmailing Russian Tyrannosaurus rex. In Tingle's recent work Redacted in the Butt By Redacted Under the Tromp Administration, objects are spontaneously transmuted into black redaction bars on the president's order.
To Kritzer, Tingle's Buttbart project marks a shift in the author's interests.
"One of the things I've noticed about Tingle's work is that it's gotten weirder and more political over time," Kritzer says. "His early books more closely resemble standard monster erotica as written by someone who's having a really hard time taking the genre seriously."
On one hand, political commentary runs through all of Tingle's work. It's practically baked into the author's stated mission to "prove love is real," which he explained in recent correspondence. Tingle conducts interviews almost exclusively through email and in character. He writes in a distinctively ungrammatical style—his "unique way"—reproduced verbatim here.
"As a published man original thought was 'There are devils on TV saying that if a bud and a bud kiss then what is next A BUD AND A PLANE?' and i thought YES I WOULD LIKE THAT HANDSOME WAY so then i decided it was important to publish and show that a world where a bud and his plane can kiss is actually a good way and i support that."
Tingle's "internet magic," as New York Times "Taking Note" blogger Anna North described it, has been his ability to use his strange erotic universe to deliver wholesome, empowering messages while playfully undermining anyone who stands in the way of love. In this way, he offers a sharp counterpoint to the hordes of online trolls who are, in Time writer Joel Stein's words, "turning social media and comment boards into a giant locker room in a teen movie, with towel-snapping racial epithets and misogyny." Tingle, it seems, is out to reclaim butt jokes.
Starting with the Hugo Awards, Tingle's efforts to "prove love" have led him into an arena that looks a lot like political activism. As with the "alternative facts warehouse," his various projects encourage fans to donate to nonprofits from the Billings Public Library to the ACLU. Tingle's messages appeared on signs at women's marches across the country last month, and Tingle himself claims to have marched with his son's partner in Helena. But Tingle resists the "activist" label, insisting that he sees his new work as an extension of the idea that propels his Tinglers. In other words, he's a satirist.
And that's a mission, he says, that's made more urgent by Trump's ascent. During our exchanges, Tingle referred to the president variously as a "screaming pile of crabs," a "certified voidbeast" and a "barrelman," which Wikipedia describes as a silly pornographic souvenir from the Philippines. Expect the gay Tromp erotica to keep on—ahem—coming. "i belive it is a real important tool for proving love in a time of devils," Tingle writes.
Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream. ... It shall be called "Bottom's Dream" because it hath no bottom.
—Bottom, A Midsummer Night's Dream
A disorienting twist to Tingle's character was announced in an obscure Reddit AMA, ostensibly hosted by Chuck's son, Jon Tingle, in 2015, in which Jon disclosed that his father is an autistic savant and diagnosed schizophrenic. "Jon" also referenced his dad's history of self harm, apparently an attempt to explain some strange jokes that Chuck had made on Twitter and in interviews about removing his skin. Jon described writing as therapeutic for his father, adding that he performs substantial editing of Chuck's Tingler drafts before publication.
As others have pointed out, the detail of Tingle's presumably ongoing mental health struggle forces the otherwise extraneous question of who he is and what he thinks he's doing. Take the information on its face, and the Tingleverse begins to make a lot more sense, of a sort, and the author's triumphs read as all the more remarkable. But if self-harm and schizophrenia are just another part of the act, then what kind of performance is Tingle really putting on?
A Vox reporter expended 5,600 words in a piece last fall trying to parse these questions, to no avail. I found myself falling into a similar rabbit hole as I tried to report aspects of this story—Tingle's link to Montana and the fundraising component of his art.
First, I asked if Billings was a cover in the same manner as his last name. He insisted he actually lives in Montana, adding that Jon once took him to a rock concert in Missoula and that "BUTT" is his favorite city name. In the same breath, Tingle repeated the claim that he grew up in Home of Truth, Utah—a ghost town vacated in the 1970s. "it was so lonesome there it was only me and mom and dad because everyone else left!" he wrote. He has posted photos of Bozeman's Museum of the Rockies to his Twitter, but when I asked him to send me a postcard or a photo from Billings, he said Jon wouldn't allow it.
Nor would Chuck help me confirm his recent one-day fundraiser for the ACLU, which he hosted after the publication of Redacted in the Butt By Redacted Under the Tromp Administration. Profits from a day's sales, according to Tingle, came out to around $461.00. I asked for an image of the donation receipt with his personal information redacted. He pointed me toward a photoshopped receipt he posted to his social media accounts. I made a $5 donation so I could compare the receipts. They looked similar, but the formatting was just different enough that I couldn't be certain it was genuine.
The closest I came to tethering the Tingleverse to reality was when I asked if the Billings Public Library had acknowledged his years of promotion and support. Chuck wrote of a "nice ladybuck" he sometimes speaks with. He gave me the woman's name but asked that I not print it. As it turned out, I had already called her: Billings Public Library Foundation Director Leslie Modrow. She wouldn't confirm anything about Tingle on the grounds that it violated foundation policy to discuss donors, even though I wasn't asking if Tingle himself had donated. Then she asked me about the weather.
What does this say about Tingle? Only that whomever he is, he isn't interested in demystifying his own identity. Why should he? Whether Tingle's art is sincere or satirical, his medium is the internet. The web is a space of lingering unreality, a warehouse of alternative facts. It's a place (thanks to Tingle) of many butts, but which hath no bottom.
Beyond the Tinglers
Perhaps Chuck Tingle's unique brand of erotica strikes you as strange? Keep in mind that sexually charged imagery has been around as long as people have put pen to paper, or chisel to stone. Literary porn tracks back at least to the invention of the printing press. And as Ecclesiastes notes (and the very fact of teendom belies), there's nothing new under the sun.
Even so, the sheer quantity (or is it just availability?) of pornography-with-a-twist seems to have expanded exponentially in recent decades—thanks, internet!to the point that Tingle's topical and fantastical approach to sex (yes, even the dinosaurs) is probably more in line with his contemporaries than you might think. Put another way, Tingle is just the tip (ahem) of the alt-porn universe.
Take the explosion of e-book erotica that's accompanied the rise of the Kindle. Vying to replace all those Harlequin paperbacks your aunt used to read is an endless sea of $1.99 titles tapping into every fantasy imaginable. Wizards, sports stars, Bigfoot—they're all yours for the taking. Or vice-versa, as in "Taken by the Pterodactyl," a 17-page story penned by prolific dinosaur erotica authors Christie Sims and Alara Branwen. It features the buxom Dianne, who, during an innocent hike among hillside flocks of sheep, finds herself trapped in a pterodactyl nest and... for just $2.99 and your pride, you can find out.
Comics, too, have become a land of plenty for the pornographically promiscuous. Some come with a price tag—as much as $95.99 for a full year subscription at Slipshine, a sex-positive online aggregator of enthusiastically naughty comics. Others, like Chester 5000 XYV, a NSFW comic about the exploits of a steampunk sexbot, have stuck to the free model, making their pages available for free in an online archive (though you can buy a compiled book on Amazon as well). Meanwhile, the folks over at OhJoySexToy.com bill themselves as a "free weekly sex education webcomic," and opt for the hand-drawn over the live-action even when it comes to their reviews of vibrators, dildos and all manner of other fun devices. (Vibrant, a sex toy company recommended by Oh Joy Sex Toy, donates 100 percent of its proceeds, after operating expenses, to Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.)
The digital pornucopia birthed by the internet hasn't left audiophiles behind, either. Popular websites like PornHub have long lists of videos that are, in fact, strictly audio. Tumblr has an entire archive geared toward those who'd rather listen than watch, featuring files with titles like "quiet girl moans" and "great car sex."
Obviously, the more traditional video clips continue to outpace other outlets, with more free video and live webcam content than you could shake a Don Wand Pleasure Wand at. And as with Tingle's books, contemporary video porn doesn't shy away from current affairs. As highlighted in a Vice article last summer, the producers behind a series titled PropertySex have capitalized on the housing crisis in a porn-tastic way, shooting POV films that put you in the shoes—or, rather, the pants—of cash-strapped would-be renters or desperate real estate agents.
We could go on and on, but that sounds like the boss coming downstairs, so it's probably time to delete the cookies and get back to work. Hopefully we've illustrated that Tingle isn't the only one proudly bucking so-called sexual norms in the 21st century.