What would you do if your wife told you she was plagued with intense sexual fantasies about your boss?
In Jill Soloway and Sarah Gubbins’s new Amazon dramedy, I Love Dick, Sylvere (Griffin Dunne) gets that exact news from his wife Chris (Kathryn Hahn), and he responds pretty positively, all things considered. Sylvere and Chris experience a new surge in their sex life once they incorporate Chris’s fantasies about Sylvere’s boss, Dick (Kevin Bacon), into their intimate times.
I Love Dick is loosely based on Chris Kraus’s semi-autobiographical novel, in which a character named Chris tells her husband she lusts after his boss, Dick, and they embark on a sexual fantasy together; their pursuit of Dick was unsuccessful. In the book, Chris later goes on a sexually explorative road trip, but much of Soloway and Gubbin’s series is devoted to Chris exploring herself in Marfa, Texas. Soloway and Gubbins spoke to Inverse last week about the changes they made in adapting Kraus’s text, what viewers are supposed to make of Sylvere, and their feelings on “cucks” and the role men have in contemporary feminism.
I was excited to see the characters in I Love Dick experiencing sexuality without guilt. Being attracted to someone who isn’t your partner isn’t really framed as immoral.
Soloway: That’s really the promise of the show. So many women grow up thinking pleasure is about becoming the object for a man. Women don’t realize they get to tell their own stories about feeling desire. Sloughing off of shame. We hope the show makes people feel less shame. She’s not being seen by her husband and Dick; she’s the seer, she gets to claim what she wants. Dick calls her crazy.
The term “cuck” is thrown around a lot nowadays, meaning that a man whose wife is attracted to another man is somehow less of a man. How did you write Sylvere so that he’s not a tragic or pitiful character?
Gubbins: He’s not tragic or pitiful to us! He’s a fully sexual, heterosexual man, who understands you can be turned on by all genders and situations. It makes him powerful. He did some fucking with guys in the ‘70s — he’s free of shame. He’s a real evolved guy, and he claims his own fantasies.
I’m sorry to use the word “cuck” by the way, it’s an invention of conservative men who struggle with anxious masculinity.
Soloway: Oh, no, we use it! We use it talking about the show all the time. Let’s humanize the “cuck.” The fact that men duck their heads and say, “no I’m not [a cuck]” is awful, so maybe it’s time to reclaim the word cuck. That’s just a man who allows his wife to be the subject. He allows her to be a full human person who refuses to corroborate the male gaze. The people who use that word are using the imagined gender binary to say there are beautiful women we own, and then there are stupid sluts who we get to talk shit about. If a man allows a woman to name the narrative, suddenly he’s a cuck.
All of these guys who’d call a man a cuck, they’re disgusted that he’d allow another man’s dick in the room. A “cuck,” then, is a man who says, “I don’t have to be the only dick in the room.” I want to say to them: Every single man who looks at porn is in the room with other dicks. They enjoy watching other men cum. Let’s just be honest here. It’s a term that works well in fascism.
Gubbins: That’s a totally common fantasy among men, [watching another man fuck his wife], but it took a couple queer women to name it. Such a moment for masculinity in this country.
Soloway: Yes, there are so many men who don’t feel represented by Trump. I get questions from men all the time, [writing about feminism], and they ask, what exactly do you want us to do? Stay home, never write again, go to the park and play hacky sack? Here’s what I say to white, straight [cis-]men: expose masculinity.
That’s your work, to expose what it feels like to be in this binary, following rules about what men don’t dare say out loud. Expose how men get humiliated by other men, that whole “who’s got the bigger dick” thing, who’s the alpha in the room. Write about the tiny head nods that happen when the two most macho men in a room notice something. Talk about what it feels like to be a man.
So we take Sylvere seriously, but what about Chris? She’s an adult woman who falls all over herself trying to get this guy’s attention with letters and art.
Gubbins: She’s still at a moment where she’s imitating the art that she thinks she should be making. She hasn’t squarely landed into something that’s authentically hers yet, and she’s been grasping toward what she thinks experimental film looks like. Chris may realize she’s a shitty filmmaker at the same time she realizes that she’s actually a great writer. Dick says stop writing these letters to me, and she asks, “Am I crazy?” No, the answer is … she’s a writer. Those letters are her book.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
I Love Dick is available to stream now on Amazon.