Friday, June 26, 2015

Body Appeal (And Other Issues)



Is it narcissistic to photograph yourself instead of other models? Is modeling inherently narcissistic? I didn't believe I was beautiful until other people started telling me so, so it's not like I started out with an inflated sense of my own attractiveness. But over time, I've cultivated my beauty through hard work - via fashion, grooming, and fitness - like anyone whose career depends on their physical appearance might. I take self-portraits because I am introverted, and I have social anxiety, not because I think I'm the most beautiful creature to have ever graced the planet. And if a lot of people think I'm attractive, does it make me a bad person to acknowledge that - even take advantage of it - rather than insisting upon feigning a false sense of modesty? Am I not allowed to take even a reasonable amount of pride in my appearance? No, that's part of the truth about beauty, too.

(And while I understand how easy it is for attractive people to be unaware of their beauty, there's nothing more frustrating to me than a beautiful girl who won't even let you compliment her, because she doesn't believe that she's pretty. I appreciate girls who are confident about their looks, and not afraid to flaunt their assets. There's no greater crime than a beautiful figure being hidden under unflattering clothes).

Why do I photograph beauty? Because it moves me. It moves me and it thrills me. I suppose that when you photograph beautiful bodies, you're contending with a primal urge to copulate. I'm not saying that only a thin line separates the photographer and the model from rapacious intercourse - after all, if it were sex, and not beauty, that I was interested in, I guess I'd be a player or somesuch, instead of a photographer. But no, beauty is something that you see, and feel - but not necessarily touch. Some people might say, "what is the point of looking at beauty if you cannot take it?", but that has not been my experience of life. I see beauty all around me, practically every day, and the vast majority of it remains out of my reach. Yet, if I could just show the world what it is I see, how profound its effect on me is, that alone would be enough to satisfy me.


A lot of my photography is based around the concept of "aesthetic eroticism", which is a phrase I've gotten into the habit of using to describe the particular sort of aesthetic beauty that revolves around the human body, that therefore may involve an erotic component (as opposed to people getting turned on by pictures of beautiful sunsets). But what is eroticism? I find that eroticism is hard to define. It deals with sexual desire, but I don't think that it's as simple as that. It may be instinctively driven by the urge to copulate, but exactly what part, may I ask, of the appreciation of erotic art (not pornography) involves sexual intercourse?

Is there an overlap between sex and the beauty of the (especially unclothed) human body? When we admire Greek statues as skilled representations of the human physique, are we merely admiring the body as an amazing machine, or are we also recognizing its instinctual erotic appeal? I think it would be stunningly naive to suggest that the admiration of physically fit bodies has no erotic component, and yet these statues stand proudly in public museums all across the world, as a testament to the legitimacy of the experience of admiring them.

But like I've said, acknowledging the erotic component is leagues away from engaging in sexual intercourse (either with the statue, or just inspired by it). Certainly, some may react to the appreciation of a piece of art by engaging in sexually explicit activities (whether alone or with company), and that's fine as long as they're not doing it right there in the museum (unless it's a really progressive museum :p). But now we're talking about what people choose to do with the inspiration that art gives them, and not what the art itself involves. There will always be that one weirdo who feels the urge to touch himself when viewing the Mona Lisa, but we should not treat the Mona Lisa as if it were pornographic as a result.


So is it a legitimate practice to admire the human body, even in spite of its erotic component? When I say "legitimate", what I basically mean is that it does not require the special 'content filter' (in whatever form it may come in) that is usually placed over pornographic and sexually explicit material. "Legitimate" practices can be engaged in (or discussed) in 'polite' company, without restricting access (usually to children). Many people in modern society are of the opinion that nude bodies are not legitimate (by this definition), although nudism proves that belief to be arbitrary. And, besides, mainstream culture is infused with a certain baseline eroticism (what critics call the "pornification" of society and the media), even without the exposure of nude bodies.

So is the appreciation of the aesthetic eroticism of the human body a "legitimate" activity or not? And what about non-traditional bodies? If we acknowledge that the aesthetic appreciation of the human body may carry an erotic element, then is that necessarily true for any body? And should we restrict the kinds of bodies we can display as a result? If some people think it's distasteful to view older bodies with an erotic interest, does that mean we shouldn't depict those bodies out of deference to that view? Also, is there no legitimate reason to study or admire the bodies of children, therefore, on account of the possibility that somebody may exploit that opportunity for questionable reasons? (I happen to think the process of adolescence is nothing short of fascinating, and one of the ultimate secrets of the universe, but I am often made to feel like a criminal for having that view).

Even what eroticism may permeate our experiences as sexual creatures is not the same thing as sexual intercourse (however pervasive that activity may be). If there is an intrinsically erotic element to the unclothed human body, nudists once again prove that its expression in overtly sexual ways is not necessarily inevitable. Should we, then, treat it the same way? I ask these questions - and I'm concerned with their answers - because I do feel as though I am being "lumped in with the pornographers". And while some of my art is undoubtedly pornographic, most of it is not, and I put in a lot of effort above and beyond what any pornographer is willing to contribute to create beautiful works of art - that just happen to focus on the potentially erotic subject of the unclothed human body - and I feel like I deserve to be recognized for that.

I don't want to be seen just as a pornographer, but as a talented artist with an eye for beauty. And I want people to recognize that erotic beauty is not the same thing as sexual indulgence. It is purer, and prettier, and gentler, and altogether more moving on everything but a pure physical level. I want people to respect it as such, and I want people to trust me to apply my photographer's eye to other human subjects, confident that I will be able to find and bring out that same beauty I've found in myself, in others.


I feel like I'm stuck in a world where (almost) the entire population either cannot recognize beauty, or misinterprets it for sexuality. Never in my life have I denied the erotic element inherent in the beauty of people's bodies, but it just seems like so many people see the eroticism and stop there. I don't feel like I'm being taken seriously as a photographer of beauty - I'm just being taken advantage of by people who think I'm hot. And as long as the vast majority of people who respond to my work do so primarily on account of its erotic - and not aesthetic - appeal, I will be lumped into that category, and the people who may be able to appreciate my aesthetic eye, but don't care much for the erotic element, are going to look me over.

So far, I haven't cared much to appease the more prudish elements of society, but enough time has passed that I am beginning to crave wider recognition, and the sorts of opportunities that are not usually handed out to pornographers. I'm caught in a bit of a bind, because I don't in any way want to become conventional or mainstream - I think a large part of the value of my work comes from my unique and unyielding perspective. And nothing inspires me and inflames my passion more than taking pictures of beautiful bodies. But at the same time, I want to be taken seriously by people who maybe aren't ready to hear everything I have to say about the philosophy of art and human sexuality. And so I'm not really sure what to do...

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Hypocrisy of Chastity


I don't understand why people get so upset about the visceral reaction humans are programmed to have to other humans' bodies. It's like, our sole purpose as living organisms is to procreate, and towards that end, nature has given us "physical desires" - and we've even used our intelligence to enable us to extract the pleasure from sex without getting tangled up in the complicated process and extended responsibilities of procreation.

But still, people in "polite" society insist on believing that if you acknowledge or indulge in these physical desires, then you're sub-human. I doubt that the Christian church is solely responsible, but their emphasis on the divinity of celibacy doesn't help. So we all go through life more and less (mostly less) successfully pretending that we're not moved by one of the greatest pleasures of our mortal existence - the pleasure of the flesh - when we all know in our hearts that we're just miserable hypocrites.

I feel like I just want to scream at people, "get real!" Life is short, and I don't have time to deal with society's institution of face-saving lies.

"Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."
 - Bob Dylan (from All Along The Watchtower)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Straight Dope on Prostitution

(Apologies for the paragraph-long sentence, but I've always been a sucker for a well-constructed run-on). :p

Can we just acknowledge that:

1) prostitution may not be the most glamorous job in the world, and it's probably not anybody's first choice for a career, but that doesn't change the fact that people can consciously (and sanely) choose to engage in it, and still maintain a personal sense of dignity, and even take pride in their vocation; and

2) if we want to help prostitutes, it's better to improve the conditions of prostitution (starting with not automatically making anyone who engages in it a criminal, thereby giving them no recourse to the law) than it is to forcibly take away their livelihood (either by "rescuing" prostitutes from their jobs, or by stigmatizing and even imprisoning their clients, who are only expressing a basic human need); and

3) if we want less people involved in prostitution, then we need to confront the issues that lead people to resort to prostitution to make a living in the first place (chief among them most likely being poverty, drug addiction, and poor education), instead of obsessing over the sensationalized narrative of "human trafficking" (a.k.a. so-called sex slavery), and focusing on abolition, which targets the symptom - out of a misguided sense of moral obligation (sacrificing civil liberty in the process) - rather than the disease.

Okay?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Outfit of the Day (#ootd)



Did I mention that this pink mini-dress (actually a pool coverup, I think) is one of my favorite summer outfits? It doesn't do the best job of hiding my masculine features (it tends to emphasize my broad shoulders and flat chest, although it's pretty good at obscuring my bulge), but sometimes you wear things just because you like them, not because they help you conform to society's expectations of how you should look. And this little slip-on is not only cute, but skimpy (the short skirt emphasizes my legs, which are one of my best features), and easy to put on (or pull off) - yet the strings that tie around the neck help to keep it in place.

This picture also demonstrates that, in light of my recent discussion of being bigendered, even when I'm shopping at a sporting goods store - which, not to gender stereotype, as women are just as interested in physical fitness as men, albeit sometimes in different forms, but being surrounded by sporting equipment and hunting and fishing and camping gear feels very male-centric (especially compared to the environment in, say, a department store) - I still like to look cute and girly and feminine. I've also noticed that this is the only kind of store I've come across that sells men's Speedos, though unfortunately in very limited varieties.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Fitness



Fitness - it does a body good!





Thursday, June 18, 2015

Contemplating a Nudist-Friendly World

I suppose that a true nudist utopia would be a world (or at least a society) in which everyone is a nudist. Perhaps this would work in microcosm - like within the context of an enclosed nudist resort, but maybe extended to the level of a whole, functioning city (why do we not already have one of these?). And that would be nice. But it's a little much to expect the whole world to get on board with the nudist philosophy, especially if, like me, you believe in the virtue of diversity (as a direct consequence of liberty; i.e., the freedom of choice). As such, I would be perfectly content to settle for a world that simply tolerates the practices of those who do choose to go nude (responsibly, in reasonable contexts).

Which is to say that this society would not consist of everybody being nude all of the time. Not even nudists at nudist resorts are nude all of the time. If you don't want to be nude in public, then by all means, wear clothes. And those who are nude would still have to follow the basic rules of etiquette that are already hard-coded into the nudist experience. Particularly, this would mean no sexual shenanigans, and carrying a towel when necessary, to use when sitting down - especially on public chairs and benches, and the like.

Also, nudity wouldn't necessarily be allowed just anywhere. Already in this society, we have a population that is capable of differentiating those contexts in which shirts and shoes are required, and those in which they are not. You have to be fully dressed when you go into a store or a restaurant, but nobody bats an eyelash at all the exposed skin at the local pool or beach. While it would be nice to have stores and restaurants that cater to a nudist demographic (and why not?), they don't all have to be, and I would be satisfied simply with a reasonable compromise - for example, clothing optional pools, but clothing-required grocery stores. (By the way, there's no reason there couldn't be sanitation requirements that dictate that all workers, even in nudist-friendly stores or, especially, restaurants, be clothed while on duty - this is not uncommonly the case at snack bars even at nudist resorts).

So, you see, it doesn't have to be a nudist free-for-all, just an elimination of the grand nudity taboo. It's no big deal if somebody takes the garbage out in their boxer shorts, so why do we make such a big fuss if somebody walks out to grab their morning paper in the buff? Doesn't it make perfect sense for somebody to gather up their dirty clothes, take them to the laundromat, and get them washed without wearing anything (except maybe a pair of flip flops, and a purse for their change)? A person shouldn't be required to wear a legally-mandated minimum of clothing for doing yard work on his own property, regardless of who might be able to see him from the street. And if somebody wants to go jogging at a local park on a hot, summer day, and doesn't like wearing sweaty clothes, they should be allowed to!

Implementation

Textiles have a lot of anxieties about what goes on within the boundaries of nudist resorts. But the existence of those resorts proves that nudists have it figured out. (And also that nudists aren't stupid - they'll wear clothes when it makes sense to, like when it's cold). Getting past all the logistical non-issues that we've brushed on above, a more legitimate concern about transitioning to a nudist-friendly society would be how the rest of the population (the non-nudists, that is) deal with the nudity.

As I've already mentioned, we would have to first get past the nudity taboo for this to ever work. Nudists prove that this is a fully surmountable obstacle - surround yourself with naked bodies, and you become desensitized to them. But that doesn't mean that this is an obstacle everybody wants to overcome. The majority of the population is probably perfectly comfortable not being desensitized to seeing ugly, naked bodies (not because naked bodies are inherently ugly, but because some of them are inevitably going to be). Is it fair to force them to acclimatize themselves? The answer to this question hinges on which you think is more important - the freedom of a person to choose how to dress, or the "right" of a person not to be exposed to certain sights, even in public.

Uncomfortable though it may be for some, I think any honest reading of the consequences of liberty would favor the former over the latter. As much as some people may be disgusted by public exposure to, for example, things like homosexuality, country music, or urban fashion, that's just a consequence of letting individuals choose how to live their own lives. The public space is a shared space for everyone to use, not a space where the dominant majority gets to dictate how everyone else will behave, forcing minorities to keep their "abnormalities" hidden behind tall fences, shuttered windows, and closed doors.

If enough of the population wants to be free from the sight of public nudity, they're welcome to try to band together and create isolated textile-only communities (and if you think that's backwards, do you think homophobia should be the default just because gay people are a minority, or do you believe that citizens of a free country have a responsibility to tolerate the proportion of their population that is gay?), but laws and restrictions against a person's freedom to choose how to dress (or not dress) in public spaces should not be tolerated in this free country.

Pitfalls

That having been decided, the remaining problem is the behavior of non-nudists confronted with the public exposure of people's bodies. One of the advantages of isolated nudist resorts is that they can control who gets to be there, which means they can weed out the people who can't behave or don't fit in, and all that's left are the friendly nudists. Like spreading Shaolin Kung Fu to the masses, the blanket freedom to be nude in public would be like opening the gates and letting just anyone stroll through.

Certainly, isolated communities could continue to exist even in the wake of decriminalized public nudity - so that those nudists who prefer not to be "gawked at", and don't want to have their pictures taken while nude, can limit their nude recreation to these semi-private places, like they do already. Meanwhile, the rest of us can enjoy some additional freedom to live our lives the way we want to. Plus, the erosion of the nudity taboo would drastically minimize (if not completely eliminate) the problem of naked pictures of you getting out, and would hopefully temper people's reactions to seeing naked bodies (if they're all over the place), similarly to the way it already happens to nudists in nudist resorts right now.

What's left? The people who aren't willing to play nice, and aren't satisfied with just snapping a picture from afar. We have enough problems in society today with people criticizing rape victims for wearing too little - what happens when creeps start harrassing nudists? I don't take that to be an argument against public nudity (just as I don't take it to be an argument against wearing miniskirts), but it is something to consider. We can hope, in an idealistic sort of way, that exposing the population to nudity would temper their behavior like it does with nudists, but the reality is probably that there will still be wild cards out there. And if anything, that's the one thing that might legitimately keep public nudity off the books.

A related issue would be people taking advantage of the freedom to be nude in order to more readily engage in sexual activities. As I've said, nudist resorts can exercise some control over what goes on inside their fences, but we obviously can't force the entire population to constantly be on their best behaviors. It would still be on the police to enforce rules against things like public indecency (re-written to include "simple nudity" as an explicitly allowed exception), but we all know that the existence of rules (and the threat of punishment) doesn't preclude people from breaking them.

Obviously (judging from my stance on this issue), I don't think it would necessarily be a bad thing if people were more open about sex in public, but that's a different hypothetical than the one we're talking about here. Still, even if public sex acts remain illegal - which would go a long way in discouraging them, if not quite eliminating them - I honestly don't think that seeing a rogue stiffy here or there is going to traumatize anyone, especially in a society where nudity itself is no longer taboo.

Liberty & Justice

To pursue a relevant tangent, I once read about a case where it was reported that masturbation was prohibited in prison, and I felt that that was kind of inhumane. But the rationale for that rule was as follows: if any prisoner used masturbation to intimidate or offend one of the [female] guards, it would be a simple, cut-and-dry matter to punish the prisoner, by only needing to prove that they were masturbating, rather than the subtler claim that the masturbation was being used to intimidate or offend. It shifts the burden of proof in order to favor the victim; but I'm wary of this practice, especially when it involves potential civil rights violations like restricting a person's freedom to masturbate (the restriction of which, barring in specific temporary contexts - like during a polite dinner party - should never be tolerated in a humane society, even among prisoners).

In reality, the rule is (allegedly) not widely enforced in contexts other than the one it was written for, but the fact remains that the law is written in an overly broad fashion, which opens the door wide open to abuses of authority. Just because the restriction against mere masturbation is not usually enforced, doesn't change the fact that masturbation is technically not allowed, and that whenever anyone does it, they are in breach of the rules, and subject to the whim of a guard who may (possibly unfairly) interpret it in such a way as to choose to enforce the infraction. I don't believe that's the way rules should be used.

When everybody is a criminal for engaging in normal, everyday behaviors, then those who are in authority are free to use their personal judgment in determining who among the entire population gets to be punished - and that judgment can be influenced by prejudices, or prejudiced superiors, or simple selfishness or cruelty. I feel sorry for victims of intimidation and such, but their plight does not justify a violation of the very principle of civil liberty and the right to a fair trial. (The issue of whether convicted prisoners deserve to have human rights is a separate one; I believe they do, but as this situation can be extrapolated to non-prisoner-related cases, I feel it is a moot point).

Anyway, I see the same kind of thing being tied in with the nudity taboo. Yeah, a lot of people are uncomfortable with nudity alone, but I feel like a lot of it is simply to shift the burden of proof. If somebody is committing public acts of lewdness, it is a lot easier to prove that they had exposed themselves than that they were doing anything specific while exposed, or for any specific (subjectively interpreted) motivation. Opening the door for the allowance of public nudity means that a person can whip their cock out at any given time (provided they're in a clothing optional zone), and for any given reason, and it would be tough to prove that they were doing anything wrong.

Still, as above, I don't think this is a justification for writing overly broad rules that restrict people's basic liberties (in this case, the liberty to be nude in public). And, as I've said, nudist resorts do a pretty good job of weeding out the creeps, so why can't law enforcement simply learn from them to tell the difference between somebody who is exercising their freedom to be nude versus somebody who is making a nuisance of themselves in a sexual manner? I think the world would be a better - not worse - place if that were to happen, and if we all, meanwhile, became more tolerant of seeing people's unclothed bodies.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Male? Female? (It's Complicated)

Not that this is anything new or surprising, but this gender identity business is confusing. It's amazing to think that for most of the population it is so cut-and-dry. But it just doesn't feel right to call myself male, and there are complications in calling myself female also. Every time I think I'm starting to figure myself out, I realize something I've overlooked, and it just gets confusing again.

I generally consider myself to exist somewhere under the broad umbrella of "transgender", but I've never really felt like I identify with the transgender experience, which seems to revolve around this process of transition. It seems tied to the gender binary - you're born one way, and eventually become the other - and places too much emphasis on the need for one's body (i.e., physical sex) to match one's mind (i.e., gender). My belief is, why can't a female inhabit a man's body?

So sometimes I feel like I can relate more to so-called "cross-dressers" - who don't take hormones or seek surgery, but just simply like dressing and behaving like the opposite sex. Except I don't think that does justice to the depth and sincerity of my identification with the female gender. My interest in being female is certainly more than a sexual fetish, and it's not just a costume I put on during the weekends.


Lately I've started warming up to the term "bigender", since it seems to encapsulate the simultaneous (or adjacent) masculine and feminine qualities I have, without feeling the need to force every part of me to conform to either one or the other. But then I realized that maybe I just like calling myself bigender because it makes me feel more comfortable about taking advantage of the male privilege to walk around in public without a shirt on.

In truth, I'm still not dressed as a guy when I do this - the shorts I wear were bought in the women's department, after all. And it's not like when I dress like that, I feel like I'm male. My underwear drawer is split between men's and women's underwear, but not because there are some days I feel like being male and other days I feel like being female. Everyday I want to be female. The only reason I have (and wear) men's underwear is because my body is male, and women's underwear isn't always up to the task of supporting my anatomy.

The topless thing involves a similar situation. I could jog those trails in a sports bra, like I've been thinking of doing, but the truth is, I don't have the breasts women have that warrant them wearing sports bras. I also don't have the breasts that make exposing them a scandalous affair like I would be if I were physically female. I like to wear as little as possible, but that's not strictly why I go topless - if I were that dedicated to dressing female, I'd wear skimpy bikinis to the pool; but again, my body won't allow it.

So it really all boils down to that dichotomy between my physical sex and my mental gender. Maybe I'm not really bigender at all. I'm just female-gendered in a male body. But what sets me apart from your [stereo-]typical transgender person is that instead of wanting to make my physical sex match my gender, I'm more or less comfortable the way I am. The goal of the typical transgender individual is to stop being transgender - i.e., to become cis-gender (but the opposite one they were assigned at birth). But I'm more or less proud of my transgender status, and I have no strong desire to change it. Which, I think, is probably even harder for the mainstream to understand than someone who was one sex/gender and decided to become the other.

So if homosexuals make up a minority of the population, and transgender individuals are an even smaller minority, then I'm an even smaller minority of that transgender minority. Unless there are a lot of other people out there like me (to various degrees - and I suspect that there are), who simply haven't figured out that this is where they stand. But I guess that means that I'll go on being a confusing mix of male and female, at least until the rest of society learns that physical sex and mental gender aren't the same thing (and don't necessarily have to be forced to match in all cases).

And in the meantime, I'll do my best to navigate the pitfalls of a cis-gender binary world, which is frequently not easy to do - for example, I'm still not sure which bathroom I should use, since some people insist that your sex (i.e., your plumbing) should be the determining factor, whereas others allow for you to congregate with the gender you identify with. I'm still not completely comfortable in either one, though.