Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The XTube Debacle

To put the following rant in perspective, this is something I've just noticed today, and I'm still hoping it's a glitch that will be fixed, or otherwise an extremely misguided update that will quickly be righted amidst public uproar (though somehow, I doubt it). I'm nearing the end of a process that's been spread out over the past year or so, of uploading many nude, erotic, and sometimes downright pornographic short videos I recorded over the course of a year (in "daily nude video" fashion) on the website XTube, where I can actually make a little pocket change off of them if people decide they're worth paying a few cents a title to view.

Now, when you upload a video, you have a choice of designating it one of two types: straight, or gay. Most of my audience is constituted of gay (or bi) male fans, but I a) do not consider my own sexuality to be accurately described by the label "gay" or "homosexual", and b) do not understand how a video of one person engaged in a sexual act (or not even a sexual act) can be considered either gay or straight. But, I am made to understand that the video type is more for categorical purposes. Still, in the ideal world, being attracted to women and not men, it is women that I would prefer to have appreciating my erotic videos. I don't have a problem with men appreciating them, but that is not my raison d'etre. Therefore, I categorize my videos (that never involve more than a single person) as straight.

Well, today, it seems to me that the option where you have to select who is in your video (namely whether a single person or more, and of what sex), is now limited by whether it's in the straight or gay category. For me to upload a video with a "single man", it has to be marked "gay". How does that even make sense? Apparently, to XTube, masturbation is now intrinsically a homosexual act. What's even crazier is that lesbian videos of women on women action must now be considered straight! Are you fucking kidding me?

I understand that the category is not meant to necessarily describe the video, but to direct it to its intended audience, but this basically negates the existence of females, except as objects of men's sexual desire. I know that porn is not that popular among women (yet, I hope), and it's always been my impression that XTube was more popular among gay men (and, ironically, women who like gay porn) than straight men or women, but it was never, to my knowledge, billed as such, and I never felt that it actually excluded straight men as performers for the entertainment of straight women...until now. (Did you ever think you'd see the day when straight men were in the minority, and gay men were the majority?). I tried ticking the site-wide filter to "female liking females" out of curiosity, and instead of lesbian porn, the ads that dominated the sidebars featured exclusively gay male content! In other words, according to XTube, there is no such thing as a woman who likes porn! Talk about regressive, conservative values...

I've always had issues with XTube. I didn't like it from the start because it's way too "porn-y". But it was the only place I knew of where I could easily make a little money from the effort I put into my erotic art. (Although I do sometimes feel that I am discriminated against for being interested in the erotic art of the human body more than the all-important "money shot"). And I think that their categories are poorly chosen. There's a category for "fursuits", but not "crossdressing"... I really wish there were more options out there. I'd like to boycott, but I don't feel as though I have that privilege. The marginalization of the sex trade has a tendency to do that to you. And the pundits who advocate for prohibition have the gall to claim concern for the sex workers. Hypocritical douchebags.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Outfit of the Day (#ootd)

Perhaps I should do this more often. :3


I found this t-shirt at a secondhand store on clearance. The drawing of Ariel is incredibly beautiful, and it fits me perfectly. It was worth a lot more than the three bucks I paid for it. (Well, my roommate bought it for me, because she's awesome). The shorts are a really flattering pair I found at Kohl's a while back. They're my new favorites. Nail polish is a pretty shade of teal called Blue Visionary, by Wet N Wild.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sex-Negativity is Anti-Feminist

"How dare a straight male depict a female as sexually appealing!"

This is one of those things that you would file under "doing feminism wrong". Unfortunately, there are a lot of people doing feminism wrong, and it's having a very powerful negative impact on the image of feminism as a whole, which undermines the feminist goals of seeking equality and reducing sexual discrimination, by instead fostering derision and opposition between the sexes, by telling women that it's in men's basic and subconscious nature to oppress women, and thereby giving men the impression that feminists hate them, and that the success of feminism depends on the subjugation of men, rather than true equality.

It occurred to me recently, while pondering the preponderance of sexualized depictions of females in the creative arts - books, film, video games - that the mere fact of female characters being depicted solely for their sexual characteristics may not, as is often assumed, be a necessary indication of the belief (usually in the creator) that sex appeal is the only quality of value a woman has going for her. While it's true that the male voice may be overrepresented in society, and that this is a feminist issue worth addressing, it's still only a matter of balance. Considering the [straight] male creator in his own domain, I would like to propose the hypothesis that the creation of sexualized female characters is not at all in conflict with a belief in the essential equality of the sexes.

Imagine the creator who believes that men and women are equal. Ideally, he would include something of a balance between the sexes in the characters of his fictional works. To do otherwise may represent something of a failure of equal opportunity, but does not necessarily indicate a discriminatory mindset. Now, if this creator happens to be a heterosexual male (which, I think, most feminists would agree is the most common case), then one of the primary differences between the sexes - otherwise being equal - he would see is the far greater sexual appeal of the female. Thus, believing both sexes to be equal, the only place where it would matter for the character's sex to be female is where she possesses considerable sex appeal. It's the only thing that sets her apart as a female from the males. The fact that all the other characters are male could simply be a symptom (albeit not a very notable demonstration) of the creator's belief that men and women are equally capable of any task, except that women are far superior where sex appeal is concerned.

Don't get me wrong, this approach is not unproblematic. I agree, as most feminists argue, that there should be a greater balance of male and female characters, and that there should exist admirable female characters who do not possess obvious sex appeal, or whose sex appeal is not the sum total of their worth. (On the flip side, which is not so often discussed, I believe there should be more depictions of "sexualized" and "objectified" men, whose emphasis is on their sex appeal - because sexuality itself is not a symptom of discrimination, only the lack of a proper balance is). But at the same time, I think we should temper the faux-feminist impulse to decry every sexy female character (whether or not she was designed by a man) as evidence of a sexist, patriarchal, objectifying cultural mindset.

There is nothing feminist about that. It is purely sex-negative, and, as I have said, it fosters derision and opposition between the sexes, which can only hurt feminism's true cause. Nothing productive is accomplished by shaming men's sexual attraction to women: it irresponsibly fails to provide women with a proper understanding of the way that men are going to view them (no amount of faux-feminist brainwashing is going to stop men from drooling over women's bodies), and teaches men that feminism is about castrating men - which is a goal extremely few if any men are going to be willing to aid and support.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fine Art Erotica

I've never formally studied art, so my opinions may be plebeian, but I like to think that I'm fairly intelligent, and I do have some experience making art. The question on my mind today deals with the concept of "fine art erotica". Not that I've ever really heard the term before. I can't claim to be the first person to think of it, but - especially in light of the art vs. porn debate - it seems like it could use some consideration. The first question to ask is, what is fine art?

Much as I hate to boil down a complicated concept to its most simple essence (aw, who am I kidding, I love doing it), the quickest explanation that has stuck in my head over the years is that "fine" art is art for art's sake. Which is kind of a nebulous definition, but then, art is a nebulous concept. There is some difficulty with this definition, however.

Very much like in the debate between art and porn, where porn is used to denigrate media that does not rise to the quality of "art", "fine art" is often considered to be art of a particular quality, above that of pop art and other kinds of "applied" art. Think of the different values that are awarded opera versus dance music. However, my opinion is that "pop", or "applied", art can be just as "fine" as "fine art" (very much like how pornography can, if rarely, be just as artistic as the best examples of art).

If you're considering "fine art" by the definition of "art for art's sake", then even if the art is being commissioned for some other sake, the "artsiness" of it can still approach "fine art" quality - it all depends on the intentions (and skill) of the artist. I bring this up because it seems to me that if "fine art" must aspire to no other purpose than aesthetics, then erotic art, of the type that I like to create, can never reach this standard since it has the dual purpose of being beautiful and being sexually appealing.

Take a bowl of fruit, for example. Why would anyone draw a bowl of fruit, other than to demonstrate its natural beauty, and the artist's own proficiency? It is not being drawn to inspire hunger in the viewer - that would be called advertising. But then, there is this thing called the "fine art nude". It seems to me that, at least in some cases, the artist is primarily (if not exclusively) concerned with the aesthetic beauty of the human body. Is it simply not possible to depict, artistically, matters of human sexuality in a way that does not pander to the erotic impulse? And how much of that responsibility lies in the artist, and how much in the viewer?

I'm not particularly concerned with the "badge" of "fine art", and whatever prestige it may bring the bearer. I think too much dedication to "purity" - in this case as to the intention of creating art - can render a piece stale, and devoid of humanity. Of greater concern to me is the aesthetic quality of a piece of art, and it is firmly my opinion that erotic art can achieve the quality of the greatest fine art. Certainly, the right piece, taken in comparison to a similar fine art nude, can be every bit its equal in terms of artistic and aesthetic quality. And some fine art nudes - whatever the artists' alleged intent - can certainly be interpreted to be just as erotically compelling as a comparable piece of so-called "fine art erotica".

And if this is not an example of that, then I don't know what is:


I'm not claiming it to be the equal of Michelangelo's David, necessarily, but considering the vast array of nudes (of variable quality) that claim the title of "fine art", I see it as nothing more than prejudice to believe that erotic art cannot aspire to the same goals. Especially considering the honored treatment this image would receive if all you changed was - not anything about the light or composition, but - the tumescence of the male organ...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Freedom

I don't recall how much I've talked about my experiences on Second Life here. I think I wrote a couple posts about it on my other blog. It's not something I've engaged in, or even really thought about extensively, for a few years now, although I have integrated what I've learned and encountered into my overall supply of life experience (what we do in the virtual world informs and is informed by who we are in the real one). But I did something the other day that made me think about it.

The string bikini is one of my favorite garments. It's a swimsuit, and it's about the skimpiest style you can get away with, without getting into the realm of fetish wear. And I consider the American flag string bikini to be a mandatory piece of clothing in my dream wardrobe. I'm not entirely sure why. I like the fact that it's festive, even though I'm not super-patriotic; and while I have no qualms with the appearance of the American flag, it's not like it's one of my favorite designs in the world.

Maybe it's because I like the idea of dressing up for holidays (the "festive" thing again), but unlike other holidays, the Fourth of July (a.k.a. Independence Day) is a mid-summer holiday, not infrequently accompanied by cookouts and swimming pools, and so you might actually be able to get away with wearing a bikini as your holiday outfit (which wouldn't work so well for, say, Christmas), and, again, not relegating it to behind-closed-doors fetish wear (such as, for example, Santa Claus lingerie).

Regardless of the reason, the American flag string bikini just tickles me pink, and so when I saw it in the store the other day, I had to try it on. Unfortunately, as much as I love string bikinis, I can't really wear them, practically, because I don't have the proper figure. As explained elsewhere, I don't have the breasts to keep the top in place, and the bottoms just aren't adequate for keeping my package contained (especially if I happen to become aroused while wearing it). Nevertheless, I was dying to see how it looked on my body.

Living the dream

And that's when I thought of Second Life, because one of the outfits I had collected - and was most excited about - once upon a time, was an American flag bikini (granted, it was a thong, because why not?). And I just found it so interesting to think about the progression from then up to now. Then, I was dressing up a virtual avatar to fulfill my barely-realized transgender fantasies. Now, I'm doing the same thing, but I have the confidence to do it with my very own, real world, body! Obviously, I can't make all the perfect modifications to my real body that are possible in the virtual world, but the important thing is that I'm working with what I've got.

My virtual anima, for comparison

Looking back on my Second Life days, it's very apparent to me that it was a stepping stone on my journey as a transgender individual. At the time I started, I wasn't really consciously appropriating the feminine principle into my everyday life, especially including my appearance. At the time, I was, in fact, ignorant of my potential for femininity, and therefore didn't see much point in trying to change the real world expression of my gender. But in the virtual world, I had total carte blanche to construct my identity and appearance however I wanted, and I never had a second thought that if I could choose, I'd be a smoking hot female.

But it wasn't necessarily the cultural stereotype of a "sexy woman" I was going for. In fact, I once had a strip club owner (of the SL, not real world, variety), request I change my appearance to something more conventional - dark, tanned skin, huge breasts, heavy makeup. What I was going for - and what is my opinion of the ideal - was really just the perfected, feminized form of what I already was - a long-legged, pale-skinned, blonde-haired, natural beauty. I was expressing my idea of the perfect form, as it exists deep within me, far below the surface layer. And what's as obvious to me then as it is now, is the fact that that form was an attractive female, and not a rich or powerful male.

I suppose I could tell you lots of stories about Second Life, but they'd need proper prompting. I had to deal with the stereotypes of "men pretending to be women" online. I had cybersex on several occasions, with persons using both male and female avatars (I claim no concrete knowledge of their real life genders, although I'm fairly certain that many of them were men and suspect that at least some of them were female). I learned that some men are content simply to spend time and converse with an attractive woman, without propositioning her for sex - and may even give her gifts for the privilege of her company (which is not so hard for me to understand). I also visited enough nudist beaches to get a feel for the sexual element that is all too happy to take advantage of such places in the absence of supervision. And, I spent some time letting gooey, mutant space tentacles have their rough-and-tumble way with me, while not-so-secretly getting off on it.

But, those are all stories for another time, if they are indeed stories worth telling. The story for today is my transition from virtual gender experimenter to real world explorer. And, specifically, my doing so in a sexy American flag-patterned string bikini. Which - and this is no coincidence - dovetails nicely with the holiday that is just on the horizon - the Fourth of July, a.k.a. Independence Day. I'm not usually very patriotic, but when I am, it's because I support the principles this country was founded on - not necessarily the way it's run today. And though the formation of the United States was indeed a demonstration of independence, it is its reputation for freedom that I particularly like to emphasize. Even here in America, freedom does not come easily, and not without a fight. But so long as I have the freedom to express my gender and my personality as I see fit, I'm going to continue to seize that opportunity, to the extent that I can. So here's to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!

I returned to the store a few days later
to find the bikini marked down a whopping 60%.
So I totally bought it! ^_^

All hail the Capitalist Empire!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Blurred Lines

In a moment of startling clarity, I realized today how much I enjoy blurring the lines between art and pornography. Obviously, if you know anything about my work as a photographer - or even my writings as a philosopher - you know that my position is that pornography can be artistic (and vice versa). A lot of people like to draw distinctions between the lifeless studio art nude and the explicit hardcore porno, but those are the extremes at either end of the spectrum. The truth is, there is a lot of gray area between, and when it comes to laying down rules that distinguish "art nudes" from "porn", I don't think enough people give enough credit to how much gray area there really is.

This is, as it turns out, the focus of a lot of my work (both written, and photographed), so I can't hope to go into every nuance right now. But when it comes to the argument of whether or not sexually explicit images should be hidden from unfiltered public view, there are essentially two approaches to take. The first approach centers on the fact that a lot of pornography is indeed vulgar, and that's not something that people want to be exposed to, willy-nilly, without warning. I could say the exact same thing about explicit, nonfictional violence (pictures of open wounds and such), pictures of spiders, or other things, but that's a different discussion.

As a person who is no stranger to the world of explicit pornography on the internet, I actually sympathize with this approach. I think most porn sites are a bit much to handle, personally. Sometimes, I might be in the mood for it, but even then, people's specific tastes vary widely, and so the difference between "oh my god, that's so hot" and "oh my god, that's so gross" can be remarkably arbitrary, and dependent entirely on the person doing the looking. But this goes for vulgar, explicit pornography. Artistic, tasteful renditions of human sexuality are another matter entirely. There is a world of difference between a snapshot of an anonymous stranger's hairy asshole, and an artistic photograph of an attractive model's backside. I have no problem with exposure of the former being restricted or at least accompanied by a warning, but when it comes to the latter, I would find no problem plastering it all over the sides of buses, or on billboards, let alone hanging uncovered in museums and art galleries.

Art

Porn?

The other argument, which is an obnoxious one, is to pull the "think about the children" card. Obviously, modern standards dictate that children should not be exposed to sexually explicit images, and this pretty much pushes everyone into the corner when it comes to making rules about where and how sexually explicit images are allowed to be exhibited. Personally, I hold the radical opinion that exposing children to the reality of human sexual activity is a healthy thing, and that hiding it from them actually stunts their sexual growth and fosters exactly the kind of dysfunctional hangups that are prevalent (to an alarming degree) in the adult population currently. But, unfortunately, one radical's opinion doesn't hold much sway in the face of the full threat of the law.

Nevertheless, that gray area still remains. What constitutes material of a sexual nature and what does not? Is it sufficient for a person's genitalia to be exposed? Nudists would argue otherwise. Does it make a difference if a person is in a state of arousal? Does the tumescence of a man's sexual organ constitute a "sex act"? I would argue that, unlike masturbation, intercourse, and other forms of sexual contact, erotic arousal is a state of being, not a state of doing. I don't see why anyone who is prepared to view a penis in its flaccid state should have any problem viewing it in its erect state - it is simply part of the natural function of the organ.

What if the subject's not nude? Can it still be pornographic?

And then, of course, you have questions about implication. If a sex act is not explicit, can it be restricted if it is merely suggested? What about if it's only simulated? What do you do when you can't tell? If a photograph of two people having sex is not explicit, and doesn't even display either person's genitalia, is it pornographic merely because it suggests the thought of sexual intercourse? Does it matter whether the people in that photograph are actually having sex, or merely simulating it? Is there a difference?

Does this even technically count as "explicit"?

What if a photograph is taken of two people having sex, but by the way it's taken, it's not immediately obvious that those people are having sex? What if they are having sex, but you really can't tell, just from looking at the picture? Is it pornographic? What if you don't know for sure whether or not they're having sex, and you can't tell from the picture, is there any possible way you could classify it as being pornographic? And what if you do, just to be safe, then later find out you were wrong? What kind of precedent does that set for the censorship of photos upon suspicion of sexual activity, rather than direct evidence?

A subject engaged in sexual intercourse (really!).

As you see, there are a lot of difficult questions, all of which exemplify the thorny nature of the grey area. And I like to explore those questions, explore that gray area. If I can take a picture that makes someone think twice about the rules we have, and how simple we mistakenly believe the issue to be, I'll have succeeded in my mission. So many people think they've got things figured out, but they know nothing. Wisdom is not the acquisition of knowledge, but the realization that one lacks knowledge. If I can shatter their simplified, black-and-white view of the world, well then, that's the most I could ask for as an artist.

As Terry Goodkind once wrote, a true Seeker of Truth can make a king quake in his boots with the asking of a single question.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Gender Scale

One of Kinsey's most famous and lasting contributions to our collective understanding of human sexuality came in the form of "The Kinsey Scale", which emphasizes the fact that most human beings are not exclusively hetero- or homo-sexual, but exist on a graded continuum between those two extremes - some being either more predominantly hetero- or homo-sexual, and many being somewhere in the middle (what we would probably call "bisexual").

In my personal experience, I used to be pretty homophobic, in no small part due to my cultural conditioning (a tradition which is thankfully starting to change). But in the process of embracing the truth and my own sexuality, I've become increasingly more comfortable with homosexuality, understanding that it is as beautiful and natural a part of human sexuality as heterosexuality is. Knowledge of the Kinsey Scale also helps in this regard, as it reassures those who are afraid of being incorrectly labeled to understand that, rather than being gay or straight, incidental gay experience or desires (and the suspicion thereof, whether by oneself or one's peers, and whether founded or not) does not necessarily mean that one is not still predominantly attracted to the opposite sex.

Although, if you do turn out to be more or less "gay", the ultimate conclusion is that it doesn't matter, because being gay is fine, too. And with this understanding, I've been able to acknowledge to what extent I may be stimulated by homosexual triggers, without being frightened or threatened by that awareness. In fact, it makes me feel more tolerant, and like a more well-rounded person - especially as someone who spends time studying human sexuality and exploring, as an erotic artist, what turns people on - since I can, at least to some extent, understand how "the other half" feels. (And as long as we're talking about being sexually attracted to men, does it even matter if the one being attracted is male or female? A straight female is just as "gross" for thinking men are sexy as a gay male, from that perspective).

That having been said, I find that I am still far more interested in and attracted to female human beings, both physically and mentally. Though I can acknowledge the erotic symbolism of the phallus, for example, I still find guys to be mostly gross and unappealing, and girls, on the other hand, to be incredibly alluring and desirable (leading me to at one point utter the phrase, "sex is just so much more fun with girls!"). Of course, this is not true of every female human being, but then the terms "hetero-" and "homo-sexuality" imply a certain amount of generalization (or at least the existence of further specifications), as few people are attracted to 100% of the male or female population.

Now, to switch gears a little bit - since my sexuality is fairly straightforward, but my gender is not - the transgender community has applied something of a similar approach to the Kinsey Scale to the question of gender identity - criticizing, in the process, the concept of the "gender binary", which presumes that a human being is either male or female. Let's call this "The Gender Scale".


On one side of the Gender Scale, you have stereotypical males exhibiting stereotypical masculine behavior, and on the other side, you have stereotypical females exhibiting stereotypical female behavior. And in the middle would be the "androgynes", those persons exhibiting some blend of masculine and feminine behaviors so as to mark their gender somewhat ambiguous.

Now, here's a caveat - since, as the transgender community understands, one's sex is not always aligned with one's gender, your position on the scale doesn't really depend on whether you are "sexually" a male or female (referring, usually, to your sex organs). You could place yourself somewhere on the scale by using a male or female symbol, indicating your sex (with alternative options for hermaphrodites, the intersexed, and other non-binary sexes), and then your degree of trans- or cis-ness would simply depend upon how close your sex symbol matches the end of the gender spectrum that's stereotypically associated with that sex.

But, nice as all this sounds, there are some problems. Firstly, I've been wondering a lot about whether I can truly consider my gender to be male or female. While I identify more with my femininity, I find sometimes that I do have some qualities that I feel are traditionally masculine. Ultimately, it might be true that I have different qualities associated with different genders (and I really don't think this is rare, even among non-transgender, cis-persons). And while I've thought in the past that it might be the case that I can switch back and forth between male and female (this is mostly true only with regard to visual cues like fashion), the closer truth may be that I am actually something of a bigender person, simultaneously (rather than consecutively) possessing qualities of the different genders.


And that's where the Gender Scale becomes complicated. There are just too many different qualities that distinguish the sexes. And while society imposes a lot of pressure for one gender to align with its own set of stereotypes, I think most people are going to stray somewhere. Maybe you're a girl and you wear pants more than skirts. Maybe you're a guy and you wear makeup. Maybe you like the color pink and action movies, or the color blue and playing with dolls. And how much weight do any of these qualities have in determining your overall gender identity? Can you be a gendered girl and have masculine interests (or vice versa), or does that, in fact, mean you are a form of transgender individual? And none of this even brushes on the complication of the fact that most gender stereotypes are arbitrary - why should girls be expected to like pink, and boys to like blue, in the first place?

So, you see, it does get complicated, and far from straightforward, when you actually take the time to think about it. Although, if anything, I think this emphasizes the importance of de-emphasizing the differences between the sexes. And isn't that really the goal of feminism after all? Except, in practice, feminism just reinforces gender opposition in the form of the war between the sexes. As a person with transgender experience, I have a hard time getting behind that, and it seems to me that a more enlightened approach would take into account the greater diversity of human individuality.

In the interest of true "sexual equality", we should stop judging people on their sex or gender, and whether those two things match up in the way they're expected to or not. Don't assume that women are feminine, or men are masculine. Don't assume they will always have the personality attributes, make the fashion choices, and share interests that are "expected" of their sex/gender. Don't assume that males always have penises and females always have breasts - if there are reasonable distinctions to be made, indicate that they are to be made based on the anatomy a person possesses, not on their sex or gender, assuming that only certain sexes and/or certain genders will have certain combinations of anatomy. I really think this is the enlightened way to do things. Am I being too radical?