Beer, Part 2: Trappist Monks, Lavalife, and Freud

Trappists beers are brewed by monks in Trappist monasteries in Belgium. They’re introduced to me by a man I meet through Lavalife, an internet dating site that I recently joined after returning from my two years of teaching in England. It’s 2003. I’m afraid I don’t remember his name. But I have never forgotten Trappist beers.

I don’t mean to be unkind but he has a kind of apish-canine look about him: thick, short neck with the sloping forehead that is part of a fairly large head, muscular build that gives him a solid, bullish look. Let’s call him Winston after Churchill, another bulldoggish looking man.

A few days later, I’m on a second date with Winston. I know I should and want to decline—we didn’t have much chemistry or rather I wasn’t that attracted to him–but two key factors play into the resulting second date: he scored tickets to a film during the highly anticipated and sold out Toronto Film Festival and he introduced me to the magical world of Trappist beers on our first date which had been previously unknown to me.

The film is about a man who gets abducted by a group of female nymphomaniacs who proceed to rape him over the course of several days after restraining him to the floor. I’m not talking about anal penetration with strap-ons or bizarre household items: the man gets aroused in spite of himself and the women have their way with him. Let’s come back to this in a moment because there’s a lot to unpack here.

There are only seven Trappist beer making monasteries currently in the world–six in Belgium and one in the Netherlands. Several monastaries in France, one each in Austria, Germany, Bosnia, Netherlands, and maybe one in Rwanda that used to brew Trappist beer, but are currently inactive as brewers. In any case, the point of Trappist beers is this: they are crafted by religious men following the oldest monastic traditions and ensure the highest quality of beer. They do so in the name of God and charity.

During our first date, Winston tells me that there is one particular Trappist monastary that does not sell to wholesalers. Only by making your way by train then foot or bike to reach the remotely located monetary can you then purchase half a dozen bottles, and only half a dozen at most. Winston plans to go there one day to buy a six pack to mail to his best friend as his wedding gift. It makes me think Winston likes to or feels the need to show off. The whole idea seems to me to be more about flaunting his means and knowledge of esoteric trivia than about his friend.

Winston is a short man, which I only find out once we finally get up from our seat at the Bier Markt in Toronto. I don’t notice when I first meet him because he’s already seated and waiting for me; he doesn’t get up to greet me; I suppose that should have been a warning, if not of shortness, than at least of poor manners. In any case, when we get up to leave, I discover that he is, at most, three inches taller than me. I am five feet five inches. I often wear heels over three inches.

Now this physical trait in and of itself doesn’t bother me. What it does, however, to the North American male’s sense of himself and his potency as a man and maker of his own destiny, does. The effect of being vertically challenged varies in kind and intensity, of course, but in Winston’s case it is sadly familiar and systemic.

Freud would have seen right through such sophomoric nonsense and told him, “I see you are just very horny and feel immense amount of guilt over it. Are you close to your mother?”

Speaking of the vertical challenged, I find it nearly impossible to believe that a man who seems to have no trouble getting his wanker vertical for a group of masked, black hooded, sex crazed or mysandric women can be considered raped. In the film that Winston takes me to, the man makes all the right noises and protests and sheds all the tears and twists his face into looks of agony and shame whenever one of these women straddle him, which is almost successful in convincing me that he is in sexual hell.

But the fact that he not only gets hard but also comes, against his will, mind you, leads me to only one conclusion: the film is a taudry, lascivious, thinly disguise porn of wish fulfillment. It essentially depicts a man who gets tonnes of sex from countless women, gives faceless women loads of pleasure by the shear manifestation of his boner, and he gets to retain all his moral credentials, even going so far as playing the victim.

The movie seems to pose the question, “Can a man have an organism in spite of himself? Is masculine sexuality a reflex so ancient and strong that he can climax through helpless, angry, pleasurable tears?”

And perhaps the director, lacking in skills of introspection, thought he was honestly asking this. But Freud would have seen right through such sophomoric nonsense and told him, “I see you are just very horny and feel immense amount of guilt over it. Are you close to your mother?”

Which makes me wonder about those Trappist monks, who by choice abstain from sex, even going so far as to cloister themselves from the coed world. Robert de Molesmes, one of the three leaders of the Cistercians who founded the monastic order that eventually became Trappist beer making monks, and the director of the film, the name which eludes me and I can’t seem to find on Google, have this in common: they both seemed to have fancied that men’s sexuality is entirely reflexive, their bodies physically wired to respond to stimuli the same way we blink when
we sneeze or jerk our leg when tapped or scratched in certain spots. And so it would be reasonable for Robert to assume that so long as the sexual reflex isn’t exposed to certain stimuli then he and the monks should be safe from getting boners.

But what to do with all this time to think and possibly come to the conclusion that he’s wrong? I imagine Robert praying to God about this very problem:

“Dear God,” he might have prayed one morning, “how do I lead this group of men each with his own love wand and burden? Prayer, I fear, will be insufficient, Lord. Give me a sign, Father, because”—takes a sip of the ale brewed badly by the neighborhood furrier—“God, that’s awful! Forgive me Father for taking your name in vain. So, anyway, Lord, I want to do right by these men as I’m sure you want to do right by us. Good Lord, that almost tastes worst after the sip’s over! If only we had a brewer in town. Shhhh…! I did it again! Forgive me again, Father. But a sign would go a long way.”

[T]all men are considered by the simple fact of their bone span to be better looking, better skilled, and better lovers (bigger bones means bigger feet means bigger love wands means better sex.) It’s the old American truism: bigger is better.

A sign, a sign. Such a comforting notion. Winston gives me plenty of signs that perhaps internet dating isn’t for me. It doesn’t tell you in all the scrolling down of his profile that he’s a typical victim of the Short Man Syndrome.

Short men got the short straw in North America where a man’s vertical stature defines his perceived social status: tall men are considered by the simple fact of their bone span to be better looking, better skilled, and better lovers (bigger bones means bigger feet means bigger love wands means better sex.) It’s the old American truism: bigger is better.

One common symptom of SMS is to puff out the chest, literally and figuratively. Others include pulling the shoulder blades together like a ballerina, sticking the chin out, faux deepening of voice, tattooing perennially visible areas of skin, driving a fancy car, wearing oversized jackets and shirts. Winston is a victim of all of the above except the shirt, which looks tailored and snug around his short neck. It’s like he’s in a perpetual state of mating display. This has to be exhausting.

I also realize in hindsight that choosing the Bier Markt for our first date was so that he could engage in another SMS symptom: to educate women. Short men are compulsive educators, needing to feel smarter, more worldly and experienced. It’s another way of measuring because that’s what SMS essentially boils down to: an obsessive compulsion to measure. On our first date, Winston successfully educates me on Trappist beers, a fairly obscure beverage. I love the beer and I love the story.

That’s probably why after taking a woman out to watch an unfortunate and graphic film clearly a display of wish fulfillment, he is probably feeling optimistic, he’s on a roll, he’s the man. Stranger things have happened.

He suggests going back to his place, which I do. This may sound horrible, but I feel sorry for the guy. Once there, he suggests smoking a little weed, which I don’t. This may sound uncharacteristic, but I’m that uninterested. After getting a little toasted, he suggests showing me his bedroom, which I decline in favor of my own. This is where I draw the line.

When trying to figure out the point of all this or some unifying perspective there are several possibilities, but only one that matters: Trappist beers are yummy. Cheers and Amen.

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