Sperm! Sperm! Sperm!

Okay, so the sperm of a Sperm Whale isn’t really sperm sperm. It’s not the kind of sperm that makes baby whales, and it doesn’t produce paroxysms of ecstasy upon exiting the body of the whale. The sperm of a Sperm Whale is stored in its ginormous head, not in his man parts, and that makes a vas deferens.

And yet—and this is the important part—the sperm of a Sperm Whale looks like sperm and feels like sperm and probably tastes like sperm, and Ishmael and the guys just love it!

Fortunately for them, the Sperm Whale has lots and lots of sperm. Tubs of sperm. Hot tubs of sperm. Roman-bath-sized hot tubs of sperm. Whale sperm is the substance that gets turned into oil, which is, ostensibly, the whole reason for the trip. To begin the alchemy, the guys have to squeeze the sperm’s “soft, gentle globules” with their man hands. That gives them a perfect excuse for slathering the unctuous creamy goop all over themselves and each other all day long.

“Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze!” Ishmael rhapsodizes. “I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it.”Almost?

 “I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me;” It’s called getting excited, Ishmael. Or did you miss that class in sex ed?

“And I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules.” Oh right, you didn’t realize what you were doing. When you’re reported to Human Resources, see if they believe you.

Not surprisingly, the scene grows ever hotter and heavier, as Ishmael leads his co-laborers into a full-on orgy. “Come; let us squeeze hands all around; nay, let us squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.” See, it’s not just sex—it’s love. Aww.

Afterward, Ishmael turns over, sighs deeply, and falls dead asleep (oh, just like a man, no cuddling) and sees in his dreams “long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands [note: no girl angels] in a jar of spermaceti.”

When Ishmael wakes up in the next chapter, still smiling from his homoerotic “visions of the night,” he describes rather coyly, “a very strange enigmatical object” lying lengthwise on the deck. It has been hacked off the Sperm Whale during the “post-mortemizing” process. This object, “an unaccountable cone” is “longer than a Kentuckian is tall, nigh a foot in diameter at its base, and jet-black as Yojo, the ebony idol of Queequeg. And an idol indeed it is.” Oh, what could it be? Ishmael teases.

Whale penis! So big it requires three guys to carry it. One of them, “the mincer” as he is called, “proceeds cylindrically to remove its dark pelt, as an African hunter the pelt of a boa.” Then he turns the pelt inside out (“like a pantaloon leg”), cuts a couple of slits for armholes and slips it on like a Halloween costume. (“This year I’m going as a whale penis.”) Dressed as so, he’s ready for work, chopping up flesh like so many Vienna sausages.

So, to summarize, the crew bathe themselves in whale sperm and one lucky guy literally wears the skin of its penis like a cozy. If there is any doubt, any doubt whatsoever, that Ishmael is gay, Queequeg is gay, the whole lot of them are gay, gay, gay, the chapters “A Squeeze of the Hand” and “The Cassock” should lay those doubts to rest. Sadly, tolerance for homosexuality had a long, long way to go from 1851 to 2015 when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. But at least, in the meantime, the closeted gay community in Puritan New England could enjoy a nice, juicy book for their bedtime reading.

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