Monday, March 27, 2017

Wet Hair

There's a woman in my bathroom mirror!

Friday, March 24, 2017


A variation of "skyclad", I suppose - clad only in the sky (or in this case, draped in tendrils of sunlight).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Straight Male (and Related Meanderings)

Perhaps there's something missing from this framework.
(Hint: it's the 'G' in 'SGO').

I realized when I wrote about the Genderbread Person back in January that, in addition to not really being exposed to the phenomenon of 'transgenderism' when I was growing up, it's probably true that I never seriously questioned my gender because I had a penis, and I liked girls, so I basically fell into the general category of "straight male". It wasn't until I had grown up and was given the option to try on a skirt (both literally and figuratively speaking) that I realized how much I liked it, and began to question what I had taken for granted up to that point in my life. I know that gender identity and sexual orientation have no correlation to each other (and the fact that my experience runs counter to stereotype serves as evidence of that fact), but if my orientation had not been so...conventional, it's entirely possible that I would have begun questioning my gender earlier in my life.

Tolerance of Diversity (a.k.a. "Liberal Propaganda")

These days you hear a lot of conservatives complaining about how they don't want their kids "exposed" (e.g., in school) to the possibility of, for example, being gay or transgender (they call it "liberal propaganda"). I get it. You don't like or agree with these lifestyles/identities. But I don't understand how you can justify taking that choice (in the sense of how you live and see yourself, not who you are) away from someone else. You might think I'm a "fruit" or whatever. But I like the way I am. And in hindsight, I regret not knowing what it's like to grow up as a girl. To learn things like how to fix one's hair, wear makeup, and pick out clothes - from an early age. If there are other kids out there like me right now, I want them to have the option I didn't have. This isn't about forcing your red-blooded son to wear a skirt; it's about giving the boy who likes gymnastics the freedom to cultivate his individuality, not conform to somebody else's standards. How is that any different than, for example, giving an oppressed woman in a fundamentalist culture the freedom to dress as she desires? Do you really care about human rights, or do you just want everyone to be like you? Because if it's the latter, then you're no better than the despotic rulers our military exerts so much effort to supplant (for, perhaps, no better reasons).

Conformist Restraint vs. Radical Individuality

Another thing that a lot of people get all in a huff about is the idea of "inventing" new genders and sexualities - almost as if we're doing it as a joke, just to annoy them. I know that simplicity is appealing, but the fact is, human nature is diverse. Not everybody fits into easily-defined categories. We can either develop words to describe what we encounter, or we can destroy people's individual personalities by forcing them to fit specific roles, like some kind of "communist" dystopia where everybody wears the same thing. I apologize if my existence, or the existence of others, forces you to consider new possibilities outside of the framework you've already constructed in your mind. But, you know what? If you're not willing to acknowledge my individuality - if you're too lazy to open your mind to something you haven't already encountered - then all I have to say to you is fuck off and leave me alone. I should write a sci-fi dystopian story about a society where men are forced to wear suits and ties and go to work at mindless jobs sitting in office cubicles in order to support identical suburban households, while women have no choice but to grow up and attract a man so she can start popping out babies. Oh wait, it's already been done - they called it the '50s...

The Gender Nebula

And then you have those who like to try to undermine the reality of the transgender experience by emphasizing the immaterial nature of our gender norms. If you have a penis, and you like to wear skirts - they'll say - then why are you not just a man who likes to wear skirts, instead of a woman in the wrong body? Isn't it gender normative to claim otherwise? After all, historically, men have worn skirts in certain cultures. Well, firstly, it generally goes far beyond just wearing skirts (individual results will vary). But listen. If we lived in a world where men were allowed to exhibit all the outward appearances and personality traits we typically associate with women, I'd be perfectly content with others conceptualizing me as a man - albeit a particularly feminine one. I don't really care what people call me (which is one of the reasons I'm not overly concerned with pronouns, except insofar as their usage would create confusion and put me in an awkward situation). And, I mean, I care what people think, but I know I can't control that, and I'm not going to let it change who I am.

The fact is, we do not live in a culture where men are permitted, without hassle, to wear skirts and heels and carry purses and watch romantic movies and collect Disney Princess memorabilia. And yeah, I want to work towards creating that reality by fucking with people's expectations of gender (on occasion; most of the time I just want to be left alone - just not at the cost of my individuality). But until we live in that gender-less utopia (if such a thing would even be desirable - I'd prefer gender to be optional, rather than outlawed), it doesn't feel authentic for me to associate myself with the cultural definition of maleness (which I have no loyalty towards - I happily surrender my "manhood" right here and now), because that isn't me. If it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, it's downright crazy to call it anything other than a duck. And if I don't exactly talk like a duck, that's not to be construed as evidence that I'm "really" a man (any more than wearing a skirt is evidence that I'm "really" a woman), so much as evidence that throwing people into the exclusionary and limited categories of "male" or "female" is an inadequate way of describing human diversity.

Gynesexuality and 'Types'

Q: What do Men's and Women's Interest magazines have in common?
A: They both feature lots of images of half-dressed women.

I was surprised and amused when I discovered this fact of life. I'm not going to go into the reasons why this might be (something about the patriarchy and male gaze, objectification and homophobia - disproportionately "sexualizing" women's bodies and coming down harder on bisexuality when it's exhibited by males - I don't know). Suffice to say, I was delighted. You see, the image I've produced above is not entirely honest, as skin mags like Playboy are not usually my type (although I was pleasantly surprised by their most recent issue). I find fashion magazines to be a whole lot more stimulating; the models are prettier to my eyes - more feminine, it seems to me - than the overly tan, excessively busty women that are typically marketed to men.

But the fact that I prefer to browse in the "Women's Interests" section of the magazine rack doesn't change the fact that I am still sexually attracted to those women. (Incidentally, I feel a lot more comfortable flipping through a copy of Vogue or Glamour than I do staring down a Penthouse in full public view). And I can tell you that before I'd developed my sophisticated tastes, as a child, it was things like digging through stacks of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues in the back of the closet that gave me my first exciting glimpses of female eroticism. So however my tastes may differ from the stereotypical straight male (e.g., I'd rather attend a fashion show than visit a strip club), I've shared those formative boyhood experiences, and they did not clue me in to the fact that I might have a different gender identity than all the other penis-wielding humans who were attracted to vagina-bearers that I encountered. If, say, I had started getting funny feelings while watching professional wrestling, for example, then I might have suspected that something unusual was going on at an earlier age.

I mean, I'd always interpreted my interest in drawing clothes on stenciled silhouettes, and watching girly shows (albeit secretly) like Sailor Moon as a natural extension of my attraction to females. (On the flip side of that coin, I think there's nothing gayer than lifting weights in a muscle shirt with "the bros"). Didn't all guys do this? I thought so. They just didn't talk about it, because it was taboo. And heaven forbid your classmates might poke fun at you for liking something girly (kids are downright cruel). Isn't it enough that you watched Sailor Moon for the "anime babes that made you think the wrong thing"? Maybe I was naive at the time, but I really thought that was all there was to it, for me. I wanted to surround myself with girliness because I was straight. (For what it's worth, I never had a "cooties" phase - except insofar as I think all people carry germs - I remember thinking when the girls on the playground threatened all the boys with kisses that it didn't sound like such a horrible punishment).

Locker Room Privilege

At the risk of being accused of "sexual orientation appropriation", I feel kind of like a lesbian - I don't just want girls' bodies; I want to live like them, and I want to be surrounded by them. But I still want their bodies, too. Sometimes that makes me feel guilty - like I'm an impostor, reading women's magazines for the "wrong" reasons (not that the fashion and beauty advice, etc. don't interest me also, to a certain extent). Not being a "true" lesbian, I'm envious of the unfair advantage that homosexuals have in intimate environments like slumber parties and the locker room. Not that there is any excuse for taking advantage of 'the locker room privilege' to do anything untoward or make anyone uncomfortable. But you can't help sneaking a few peeks. And if most people assume by default that you're not interested in that way, they'll be less guarded. Again, this is no excuse to take advantage, but if you're genuinely harmless, then it is indeed an advantage.

My personal opinion is that, in this world, too many people make too much of a deal out of being looked at. Especially girls - who are taught to guard their "purity" - who often aren't so much concerned with being looked at as being looked at "in that way", as if something horrible is going to happen if somebody has an impure thought, or if you indulge that thought (or indirectly allow it to be indulged) in even the slightest of ways. Sadly, slut-shaming contributes to this social environment. We need a sex-positive revolution which reconditions people to feel that they are allowed to enjoy the sensual pleasures in life, free from guilt and shame. Where a woman doesn't have to be afraid that if she lets some random guy get a peek at her, it could be construed as "leading him on", which might then be used against her in the case that he decides to commit sexual assault. You see, I'm against rape culture - but I'm not against the possibility of viewing women in a sexual light. That's the whole point of SlutWalk, which so many people misinterpret.

In any case, whatever you might say about the propriety of sneaking a peek in the locker room, it's inevitable. You can't, say, put lesbians in the men's room, because the straight men would then get an eyeful. And even if you made separate locker rooms for each sexuality, there would still be the bisexuals! It's an advantage that exists, whether you like it or not. And I can't help but envy it. You might say that restrooms possess the same advantage - and I've used the women's restroom. But - and I know this varies from person to person - I find nothing sexy about the restroom. Changing clothes? Taking a shower? Absolutely! Sitting on the toilet? Ew, no thank you. And most of the 'action' in a restroom takes place behind a stall door, anyway - not out in the open (at least if we're talking about the women's room, and not the men's urinals - I don't understand how anyone can use those). Locker rooms are more communal, and open. Which is precisely why I can't use them - because when the clothes come off, my secret, unfortunately, comes out. To put it another way, when I disrobe, the true nature of my anatomy is laid bare. ;-)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Advertising Nudism

I have a bit of a dilemma, regarding a subject I discussed back in December, on the question of whether nudism should be represented by attractive models (which is the standard in advertising), or average people. One of the things I'd, hypothetically, like to apply my photography skills to is selling the nudist lifestyle. As an aesthetic artist, my personal instinct would be to use attractive model(s) with attractive bodies, to make the lifestyle look more appealing. I deal in fantasies, and idealism. It's what people desire. And though the reality may fluctuate (wildly), to this day one of the things I admire most about nudism is the potential to find oneself in a paradise of naked beauty (which is rare, but not unheard of). It's not necessarily a sexual motivation - but I won't deny that it is superficial in nature.

And though I'm willing to admit that I would support measures to make nudism more closely resemble this ideal vision - by recruiting more young and conventionally attractive people, and emphasizing things like physical health and fitness - the fact remains that I have not and will not turn my back on the democratic principle that underlies nudism: namely, that it is for every body. Because as wonderful as nudism might look if every participant was "objectively" beautiful, once you start making it about appearances, and not about being comfortable in your own skin - no matter what it looks like - the lifestyle loses much of what makes it so appealing (in all but a visual sense).

Nor can I ignore, as a potential recruiter, the possibility that a great many "average" people (including beautiful people who think they're average) will be instantly turned off by an advertisement featuring "perfect" bodies not like their own. Nobody, on their way to a relaxing time of naked fun, wants to feel like they're about to be appraised and judged on their appearance, or be made to feel anxious while surrounded by people more conventionally attractive than they are. It'd be the gym locker room all over again (and, incidentally, this competitive atmosphere is largely the reason why you never see any nudity in locker rooms anymore).

But there's a frustrating dichotomy at play here. If you use attractive bodies to advertise nudism, people will feel like they don't belong. But if you use average bodies, you'll get people complaining about how "it's always the people you don't want to see nude..." (and that may be accurate, but it's not the image I want for nudism). Perhaps it's not possible to please everyone - and the people who are more forgiving of normal bodies are probably the ones most likely to be willing to try nudism. But I still want to make nudism look like a naked paradise. And, what's more, there's the practical consideration that advertisements featuring beautiful people are given more leniency in the public square. Maybe this isn't "fair" or "right" (I might be inclined to defer to social Darwinism on this point - beauty is popular for a reason), but it's true, and it's worth considering strategies that take advantage of this fact.

On the one hand, we're taught to put our best foot forward. Why, then, shouldn't I want to make nudism look as appealing as I can? But it could be said that some part of the appeal of physical beauty is sexual in nature. It certainly is true that sex sells, but wouldn't it be irresponsible to use sex to sell nudism? Perhaps I'm overlooking a simple solution - advertising nudism without images. But I want an excuse to advertise my images. And if I want to do that for a broader audience, it has to be non-sexual. And the best excuse for non-sexual nudity is nudism. Sure, there is "fine art" - but the focus there is still on the bodies (maybe even to a greater extent), which could be perceived by some as being an improper obsession. Nudism has the advantage of promoting a whole outlook on life beyond a love of bodies - and a positive one, at that. There's a clear and direct, non-prurient reason for the nudity (whether the viewer is on board with it or not).

I'm a very visually-oriented person. Maybe that makes me not the perfect representative for the nudist lifestyle, which I myself have described in the past as "being nude, not seeing nude". I've agonized over whether I can even represent nudism at all, since I'm "too" attractive (not to mention very sex-positive). I don't want to feel like I'm taking advantage of nudism as a medium through which to display my work. But I am a nudist. I support the lifestyle. And I support its ethos (if maybe I disagree on some of the finer points - though as a member of the lifestyle, I feel I deserve to argue those points). I don't mind there being a difference between depictions of nudism and the reality - that's true of anything that's received the advertising treatment. But then again, if we're talking recruitment - and the more people on our side, the less of a struggle it will be getting society to accept our lifestyle, and give us more opportunities to practice it - I don't want to misrepresent the lifestyle. You want it to look appealing and accessible. And an ad that gets rejected by Facebook because it suggests nudity in an unappealing, not-socially-acceptable way (as opposed to what you occasionally see on the cover of such mainstream magazines as Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, and Rolling Stone) isn't accessible to anyone. I'd say it's got me in a bit of a quandary as to how to proceed.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Shower Finish Revisited

I took a shot like this nine years ago. The passage of time fascinates me.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Naked is Normal

"As a woman, you can be smart and naked at the same time."
- Miss March 2017 Elizabeth Elam

So, I picked up the latest issue of Playboy - the one which celebrates the magazine's return to nudity - and I can safely has earned my badge of approval. It's rare for me to find people out there in the public eye who hold similar ideological stances to my own (which, sadly, explains why I'm used to disappointment), but it's almost as if Chief Creative Officer Cooper Hefner took the advice I laid out last week (that is, if the issue hadn't almost certainly already been published by that time).

The pictorials are artistic - both tasteful and erotic, with more of an emphasis on natural beauty than what I've seen from the magazine in recent decades. What's more - as alluded to in Cooper's introduction to Playboy's new philosophy - the magazine takes what I would call a libertarian approach (as demonstrated in its articles and interviews), recognizing the flaws inherent in both the modern liberal and conservative platforms, while emphasizing the importance of civil liberties and freedom of expression.

"We need to identify who our allies are at a time when, on the liberal side, a culture of political correctness discourages debate that may hurt people's feelings and, on the conservative side, politicians seem comfortable jeopardizing the rights of specific groups in the belief that it will 'make America great again.'"
- Cooper Hefner

I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised. Rather than a tacky and outdated relic from a bygone era, this issue feels relevant and interesting. Features include an interview with Scarlett Johansson, an article on porn's contribution to the continuing development of virtual reality, and a survey of various up-scale recreational marijuana-based products, among other things. I'd be proud to display this magazine on my bookshelf or coffee table - that is, if we didn't live in such an uptight society.

Every freedom we are granted is undermined by the insidious shadow that it casts in the form of its potential to "corrupt" the young and innocent. You see, it's one thing to support these "lifestyle choices" as an independent adult, but there's still the risk of being charged with "contributing to the delinquency of minors" if any children are unduly exposed to these alternative viewpoints (not coincidentally making it harder to cultivate public awareness and thereby erode established values), despite the hypocritical fact that exposing kids to harmful things like bigotry and second hand smoke is perfectly acceptable.

Anyway, I obviously can't guarantee that Playboy will maintain this level of quality in the months to come, but I can say this: my hopes have been raised, and my curiosity has been piqued. I'll be paying attention.

"Sex is figuratively the big bang behind...all of conscious existence and civilization itself."
- Cooper Hefner

On that note, it's not just nudity that's normal. Sexual arousal is normal, too. But I suppose we'd better take these things one step at a time...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Playboy Issue

It's true that I inhabit the world of erotic photography. But I'll be the first one to admit that "pin-up" culture is not really my scene. I mean, I like the concept of pin-ups - erotic images designed to be displayed like posters - but I have a problem with the glamour industry's detachment from reality. Pin-ups are too constructed, too deliberate - the makeup, the poses, the clothes (when there are clothes). The world is naturally imbued with sensuality - you don't have to try so hard to find it. That's why, rather than making a big production out of it, I like to look for the sexiness in everyday life - and integrate it into my everyday life, instead of keeping it locked away, only to be trotted out in "appropriate" situations in front of "appropriate" audiences.

Nonetheless, I've been thinking about pin-ups lately, in connection with a photo idea that I'm working on (it's not as straightforward as simply shooting pin-ups - you'll see it when I'm finished). Plus I've been hearing a lot about Playboy ever since they made the controversial decision to discontinue the publishing of nudes in their magazine last year, and their more recent conclusion that this was a mistake (to which the world muttered a collective, "duh..."). And then I stumbled upon a tumblr site containing every Playboy Playmate of the Month going back to the very first issue in 1953 (which I hadn't realized featured that iconic image of Marilyn Monroe nude against red velvet).

So I thought it would be fun to browse through the magazine's past centerfolds (try looking up the Playmate for the month in which you were born!), and pick out some of my favorites. Now, this is going to be from the perspective of an artist - not a historian - so I'm focusing on the aesthetic quality of the images themselves (and how the models look), and not their significance, celebrity, or notoriety. Although, it is worth saying that that first image of Marilyn Monroe is easily one of the best centerfolds that has ever graced the pages of Playboy - from what I've seen. You'll find it at the end of the list.

Miss January - Susan Lynn Kiger (1977)

Miss February - P.J. Lansing (1972)

Miss March - Dolores Del Monte (1954)

Miss April - Sandra Settani (1963)

Miss May - Lari Laine (1958)

Miss June - Gail Stanton (1978)

Miss July - Heather Van Every (1971)

Miss August - Arline Hunter (1954)

Miss September - Angela Dorian (1967)

Miss October - Majken Haugedal (1968)

Miss November - Avis Miller (1970)

Miss December - Marilyn Monroe (1953)

Clearly, I favor the centerfolds from the earlier decades - particularly the '50s through the '70s. It's quite fascinating to look through these images and see how styles have changed over the years. The earlier images are more demure - romantic, even - often utilizing the soft focus technique that David Hamilton perfected. Beginning in the '70s, you start to see a lot more pubic hair that had previously been hidden by the model's pose or clothing - likely the result of Penthouse's influence. I had noted that an unusual proportion of the earlier models were topless, but wearing pants, and in hindsight, I suspect it was to avoid the possibility of showing any pubic hair, until such time as that became acceptable.

The centerfolds from the '80s and '90s have a very distinct look - to be blunt, these were not good decades for fashion. There is a lot of "big hair", and - particularly as you progress through the '90s - tan lines (once ubiquitous - as seen here, here, and here) disappear completely (rendering pale bodies exceedingly rare), and breast implants become more common, as the plastic, "porn star look" [regrettably] grows in popularity. Into the new millennium, airbrushing becomes very noticeable, while a large proportion of the models don a "landing strip" - though after about 2008, the clean-shaven look becomes increasingly common. A lot of people complain about that, but honestly, I think it's an improvement over the middle ground. I may be in the minority, but, aesthetically speaking, I don't mind either all or nothing (most people are very polar on this issue). But when you leave that little strip, it just looks tacky and artificial.

Of course, it's not that the models from the later years are unattractive. I just don't find them as appealing. Which is interesting, because it's not as if the women from the '50s and '60s aren't dated, too (and arguably more so). I'd like to say that theirs is a more timeless beauty, but perhaps it's purely subjective. But the more modern models look more like sex dolls than real women to me. Sure, they're designed to be "sexy". But, honestly, I don't think the designers are checking the right boxes. And I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who will disagree with me - otherwise, these things would never have become so popular.

So maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. But in my humble opinion, if Playboy wants to maintain its reputation, and rebuild their subscriber base, they should rededicate themselves to an artistic approach, instead of this commercialized, glamour industry drivel. They're worried about competing with internet pornography when they shouldn't be in the same business in the first place! And they need to reevaluate what the phrase "girl next door" means. This isn't a euphemism for "plain-looking" - there are a surprising number of beauties out there who aren't industry professionals. But, unless you live in Hollywood, the girl next door isn't going to look like a career model - with the time and money to invest in breast implants, a constant tan, and a personal makeup artist. The girl next door is a beautiful woman, but a beautiful woman you might know - not one you'd see in porn (unless you're watching amateur porn, but let's not open that can of worms right now).

P.S. I'd never given it a whole lot of thought before, but I really like the Playboy logo. The rabbit suggests an enthusiasm for copulation, but the bow tie indicates a certain level of sophistication. It says, "yes, we're animals - we're not trying to hide that fact. But we can still conduct ourselves with dignity." And I'll be damned if that doesn't mirror my own approach to human sexuality.