Friday, March 25, 2011

More on Objectification (Sex vs. Romance)

In my lexicon, 'objectification' is a dirty word. Not because of what it implies, but because of how it's used. The concept of objectification is frequently used by people to denounce and discredit the male sex drive. The truth is, objectification is a healthy aspect of male sexuality, and it does not preclude the possibility of, nor indicate a lack of interest in, romance. And even in those cases where romance is not present, one simply cannot jump to the conclusion that some kind of slight is being perpetrated against the "sexual object" involved. This is another case of using the example of rude men, blaming their sexual desires, and then criticizing all men for expressing those desires, instead of singling out the rude behavior, and recognizing that nice men can 'objectify' without hurting anyone (including their pride or respect, provided they are properly educated about the process of 'objectification').

Honestly, I sometimes feel guilty about my sex drive, because it is one aspect about me that seems to be decidedly masculine (probably because of my hormones). I don't feel guilty because I think there's anything wrong with it, though, I feel guilty because it seems to undermine my attempts to identify with my feminine side. But even so, my sex drive is not exactly typical, as the goal seems less to be satisfaction (i.e., sexual intercourse), and more the experience of the desire itself, and how it makes me feel. I guess you could say I prefer the pursuit to the capture. Further, the 'stimulation' I seek is far more often of an intellectual nature than a physical one. On the one hand, I feel as if I were almost sexually attracted to romance, because I am far more intoxicated by the concept of love than sex alone, yet, I cannot deny that I have a fundamental interest in sex, and that my interest in love carries something of an underlying sexual fervor to it. An eroticism that strides the valley between romantic love and pure sexual lust.

Another thing that I find curious is that I am highly attracted to visual stimuli. Which is something that, in my experience, I have noted is a far more masculine than feminine trait. But getting back to the concept of objectification, I can look at a girl, either in person or at an image, and be stimulated (quite strongly) without requiring any sort of personal involvement, or having to "know" the girl. And I fail to see how this ought to be construed as an inherently negative thing. The stimulation enriches my experience, and it doesn't in any way cause me to harm the trigger of that stimulation (the girl). Yes, I think that sex within the context of love is (much) better than "impersonal sex", and it is an ideal to strive for, but I don't see that that means that "impersonal sex" (or something as simple as impersonal stimulation) should be outright avoided.

After all, if that were the case, I would hardly get any satisfaction in life, and I think many other men (if not women, too) would be in that same boat. I've been looking for years for the right girl to 'give' myself to, and even when I thought I had found her, it turned out she had absolutely no reciprocal interest in me. Furthermore, even if I do find her someday, I don't believe that 'saving' myself for her will naturally make it a better experience. I fell for that trick many years ago. If anything, I should be getting more practice so that when the big day comes, I'll be a seasoned pro. 'Learning the ropes' with your life partner may be a great experience, but it works much better for the couple who meets in high school (or earlier), than for the person who doesn't find his match until much much later (or not at all); we're not all that lucky in love - and why should we waste half or all of our lives not experiencing pleasure just because we haven't found the "perfect" person to share it with yet?

But there is another thing that makes me cringe when the topic of 'objectification' comes up. And it's the implication that only someone who takes the time to get to know a person then earns the privilege to think sexual thoughts about them. This is all nice and romantic, but it's not practical. We can't control who we have sexual thoughts about, nor is it humane to expect people not to indulge their sexual desires unless they've found a soulmate, or only within the context of committed relationships. It's a conservative sexual idea that stems from the belief that the only "pure" sexual thoughts are those that are directed towards your married partner (if that).

The fact is, I'm not a social butterfly, and I'm not the most skilled at interpersonal communication. For me, getting to know a person is extremely difficult, and even more so when you add the intimidation factor of talking to someone I am actually attracted to. Should I then be subjected to sexual frustration as a result of my lack of interpersonal skills, or should it not be acceptable that I indulge in harmless "objectification" from time to time? I derive great pleasure from (ethical) voyeurism, and I see no reason why that should be taken away from me. And then we come to the question of diversity. It'd be nice if everyone had an easy enough time finding someone they really like (and who really likes them back), and had an easy enough time getting to know them, but not all of us are on a level playing field. We all have different abilities and different desires, and we live in different ways. What the moral stance on 'objectification' suggests is that there is something wrong with somebody who indulges their sexual desires without getting to know somebody intimately first. It is a subjective value judgment, and it is discriminatory.

A lot of people would like to say that because I have a strong interest in erotic photography (and you can easily substitute 'pornography' here, though it makes your defense harder - pun intended), it means that I don't respect women. Well, that's ridiculous. And saying that demeans the value of that photography, and everything it means to me. And just because they can make comparisons to 'objects' that are used and discarded doesn't mean it's immoral for me to go on 'vainly' glorifying the visually aesthetic beauty of feminine sexuality.

See, I have a guilt complex about the fact that I'm more comfortable looking at girls than talking to them (and it's not because I don't care about them as people). I'd prefer it to be the other way around, but I still don't think I should be made to feel guilty about being this way. Which is what happens every time somebody cries "objectification!"

I Kiss Girls

It's a testament to the enduring strength of the misconstrued marriage between gender and sexuality that if someone identifies as "homosexual", they are typically characterized as identifying with their opposing gender. Hence, gay men are expected to be effeminate "fairies" and lesbians are assumed to be butch "dykes". Perhaps we're making headway in changing that conception, but what of individuals who conform to their opposite gender - that is, guys who act girly and girls who act manly? Do we not tend to assume that their sexuality is characterized by the heterosexual match to the gender they identify with (and thus the homosexual match to their physical "gender")? Thus effeminate men are gay (they portray themselves as girls because they like guys) and butch women are lesbians (they portray themselves as guys because they like girls). But this isn't necessarily the case, either.

As for my personal experience, I am, at least according to my sex organs, male. Yet I identify more as a female, psychologically. But in my case, my desire to be a girl (leading to dressing like a girl and acting like a girl) is merely an extension of my multi-faceted interest in girls (which includes a romantic/sexual interest). I want to be a girl because I like girls, not because I like guys and I want to conform to the heterosexual attraction dynamic (which is ironic, because insofar as I consider myself, practically, to be male, I do identify as heterosexual). But since I have male plumbing and I like girls, it's far simpler for me to identify as male, even though that kind of ignores the way I feel, about being a girl.

Really it's a matter of conflating one's sex and gender, and using terms (heterosexual, homosexual) that refer to both one's sex/gender identification and target of attraction simultaneously. Those terms say something about both the person being attracted and the object of their attraction at the same time. But it gets further complicated when we bring that confusion between sex and gender into play. We assume that most people's sex and gender match (if they have male plumbing, they're male; if they have female plumbing, they're female). Consider me - if I identify with my physical sex, then I could be considered heterosexual, but if I identify with my preferred gender then I would be homosexual (a lesbian). So which do I choose? The easiest thing for me is to avoid both terms (and the associated stereotypes), and just tell people the simple truth - that I kiss girls. It says nothing about what I am (which is a very complicated matter), and only about what I like (which is honestly quite simple).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Perversion is Rebellion

Have you ever noticed how the most powerful sexual fantasies are often the most transgressive? (I'm sure you can come up with your own favorite example). I think that's why those who are in power (the church and the state) are so afraid of sex. It undermines their control over the obedient populace. It's no wonder sexual fantasy is the easiest target for thoughtcrime - so much of it involves exploring (and enjoying) the breaking of rules and taboos. Sexual liberation is freedom from tyranny.

I would rather a man indulge his craving for despotism in the realm of sexual roleplay (with an emphasis on the word play), than to repress his sexual urges and become a despot in the public and political arena.

Reading A Newspaper

I can't take full credit for the brilliance of this idea. I combined the dramatic reveal of this video, with the theme of reading a newspaper as seen in this video, and added my own personal touch (i.e., nudity). Go here for more absurd fun. I particular recommend this short film.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pretty and Jaded

If you're attractive, you're bound to receive a lot of attention. Some of it will be positive attention, and some of it will, inevitably, be negative attention. The important thing is not to use the presence of negative attention as if it were proof that everyone who gives you attention has the same thing in mind. And while it may be true that receiving less attention would reduce the negative attention you receive, it's still not fair to treat everyone who gives you any of that attention as if they were one of the bad ones.

If one guy who told you you were pretty decided to stalk you, it doesn't mean that the next guy who tells you you're pretty will follow the same pattern. And if one stalker decides to try to rape you, it doesn't mean another stalker has the same intentions. It doesn't mean you shouldn't protect yourself, but it doesn't help to view everyone who gives you attention as a live threat. Treat the attempted rapist as an attempted rapist. Treat the stalker as a stalker. And treat the kind gentleman who just gave you a compliment as a kind gentleman who just gave you a compliment, not as if he were attempting to rape you.

Just because bad people do bad things in the name of sex, doesn't mean it's a good idea to punish good people for wanting to do good things in the name of sex. What bad people do doesn't make sex bad. It makes bad sex bad. But bad sex is already bad, and there's such a thing as good sex. Just because somebody shows evidence of an attraction, does not prove that they are one and the same as the back alley rapist. The whole thrust of my argument is that we shouldn't punish good people for the things that bad people do. And telling a good person not to like sex, or that he's bad for liking sex, or just for admitting it openly, is not good. For you or him or any of us in this society.

One comment I see in flickr profiles a lot is "if you have ANY pornography in your photostream or favorites, I WILL block you". But this just propagates the stereotype of people who like pornography. Like as if, just because I have a few pornographic pictures in my photostream, it means I'm not the kind of person you'd like to get to know. Even if the majority of people who are "okay with pornography" are annoying and offensive and disgusting, it doesn't mean every one is - and why not criticize the behavior rather than the pornography? Instead, you could say, "if you are annoying or offensive or disgusting to me, I WILL block you." That would be far more reasonable.

I understand that some people might just be opposed to pornography on a level that they can't stand dealing with people who are okay with it. Although I don't really respect that approach, because I've made friends with people who do all sorts of things I don't agree with. Unlike most people, I believe we should live and let live, and let people have their interests so long as they're not hurting me (or others). And no, pornography doesn't hurt anyone just by virtue of being pornography (the fact that some people might use pornography to hurt people doesn't change the fact that I don't hurt anyone with my pornography). But the funny thing is, on flickr, there are content filters so that people who don't like pornography don't have to see it. So how do you even know if somebody has pornography on their photostream, unless you're going out of your way to look for it?

It just bugs me because when I see a comment like that, I identify with the type being told off, even if I don't really belong in the group - but for certain superficial qualities, like having pornography (even if I don't act like your typical single-minded drooling pervert). But, those superficial qualities are enough for lots of people - they see a pornographic picture, and they dive for the bushes. And I'd hate to take on the duplicitous approach of having to tell myself (and others), "well, okay, this person doesn't like anyone who has pornography, and I have pornography, but I'm not included because I'm different from most people who have pornography." I guess it's a matter of taking these statements in the spirit they're intended, rather than the letter. But that bothers me - I believe that you should say what you mean, and mean what you say. And anyway, if I were to take on the approach of not treating myself like I have anything to do with pornography in spirit, then things just get more confusing, because people will argue that what I do is pornographic, and then how do I defend myself? Am I supposed to just say, "well, it's not technically pornography because I don't fit the social profile of a pornographer"?

The point is that a style of picture doesn't dictate whether a person is good or bad company. And it really bugs me that I see so many people discriminating on that account. Are you one of them? I guess you would also assume that just because I took (and liked) a picture like this:

...that means I don't have the intelligence to write an insightful post like this one.


Friday, March 18, 2011

I Need An Assistant

But I can't afford to hire one.

Uploading a photo to flickr is such an action of consequence. I take some pictures, I bring some ideas to life, I work on getting a final product (which consists mostly of selection). I might have something great, or I might have something merely okay, but in either case, the photo goes up, because I want to share it with the world, and then...not a lot happens. I watch the view count increase ever so slowly, as if that meant something. Sometimes I get attention in the form of comments (some of which are interesting, many others are merely flattering and not much else - which I appreciate, but there's not much for me to do with them), or occasionally a group invite (which I'm kind of ambivalent about; groups mean exposure, but most of my photos attract groups on subjects that aren't terribly exciting for me, which is one of the unique ironies of my photography). But that's it.

I'm not sure really what I expect, after all. But I wonder sometimes what people get out of my photos. I mean, yeah, I know there are apparently a lot of guys (and possibly a few girls) who think I'm hot, and that's great. But I don't need to know the sordid details of what those people "do" with my photos. Not in most cases (the few girls being the exception :p). And I know there are others who appreciate the artistry in my photography above and beyond their determination of whether or not I am attractive (and sometimes in addition to that). I like to hear when people are inspired by the work that I do, both my pictures and the thoughts and ideas and concepts that accompany them. I like to hear how they're inspired.

I don't want to come off as being too self-complimenting. I don't think I'm the best artist in the world, but I don't think I'm the worst either. And if there are ways I can improve, beside just generally getting more experience, I'd be happy (and humble) to listen to advice and take suggestions. I don't exactly expect my work to attract journalists and museum curators and whatnot, but it would be nice if it did, and if there were some way for me to reach that point, I'd want to know how to do it. On the other hand, advertising is at least as - if not more than - important as talent, and I never talk to anyone about what I do. And part of that is because what I do is controversial. Though controversy does draw attention, it's also very hard to bring up in conversation when you're the person responsible for inciting that controversy.

But I have no intention of turning my back on controversy, it is what makes what I do interesting, and therefore worthwhile. I'm not interested in focusing on boring subjects that don't ruffle anyone's feathers. Perhaps, then, what I need is to be less guarded on what exactly it is I do as a photographer (and in other aspects of my life). Yet there is a part of me that fears that what I'm doing is not really art like I think it is; that the only value it has is whatever value the people who find me attractive get out of it (thus rendering it on the level of pornography, and not even very exciting, to porn standards), and that all the "art" I see in it is an illusion that I am projecting onto it.

But I don't fully believe that, it's just a fear that nags at me. I think the more likely scenario is that I can't seem to pull myself away from what's easy and familiar (and interesting) - that is, taking pictures - and force myself to do the busy work that would get me noticed - which would be, working with what I've already created, showing it off to people, putting it together in more easily digestable forms, selling prints, getting my website together, et cetera. Of course, part of my hesitation to do that is, again, the fear of controversy. Self-portrait artists love to make quick change selling prints on flickr (surreptitiously), but this is much easier done when the model is attractive enough in her clothes, because I would feel extremely self-confident going anywhere and asking to have a picture like this one printed out and sold to my fans:

And anyway, how many people, no matter how much they like that print, would actually hang it on their wall, where all their guests can see it? I'm working against a heavy layer of sexual repression in society, here. There are powerful forces working against me, against what I do, and against everything I stand for. Which is to say, freedom.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sight vs. Shock (Voyeurism and Exhibitionism)

As a voyeur and an exhibitionist, I am surely not ignorant of the kind of negative attitudes passed around regarding voyeurism and exhibitionism, and I must say that they concern me. As with all so-called "paraphilias", there is the difficult question of what sorts of interests are unusual or unhealthy (a question that is confused by inaccurate understanding of human sexuality), and where the line lies that separates an unusual interest from a mental disorder, or criminal activity.

When I read clinical definitions of voyeurism and exhibitionism, I see a focus on the involvement of "unsuspecting persons". I believe this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it accepts that voyeuristic or exhibitionist behavior involving only consenting participants may not be abnormal or criminal. But on the other hand, it promotes the idea that voyeurism and exhibitionism is defined by the presence of unsuspecting participants.

To parrot the popular stereotypes, exhibitionists are flashers who get off on shocking people by unexpectedly exposing themselves, and voyeurs are stalkers who get off on invading other people's privacy during intimate moments. But why define these people by the nature of their disruptive behavior? If you ask me, a flasher may be an exhibitionist, but the problem isn't that he likes being watched, it's that he likes to shock people by showing them something they're not expecting, and quite possibly don't want, to see. The antisocial behavior is not 'wanting to be seen', it's a matter of impaired impulse control, lack of empathy for others, and that sort of thing.

If we define exhibitionism this way, then what happens to the people who want to be seen, but have no desire to shock or surprise others, or in any way disturb nonconsenting participants? I might fantasize about showing up to the dinner table naked, but I don't actually do it, because the thing that gets me off is the idea of being seen, not the idea of shocking people. In reality, when nonconsenting participants are involved, the reaction is likely to be less than positive, and my desire to avoid disturbing people trumps what superficial thrill I might get from being seen. Ultimately, what I want is the pleasure of being watched by people who are clearly interested in watching. It's not about shocking people, it's only about being seen.

And there are people who would like to widen the definition of "voyeurism" to include even indirect voyeurism - like watching porn videos. Is there really something abnormal about wanting to watch other people have sex? Particularly if your sex drive is stimulated largely by sight - and this will vary from person to person, but I know that I personally am highly aroused by visual stimuli. To me, it seems insane to suggest that getting off on watching people having sex indicates some form of mental disorder.

Again, the question of criminal or abnormal behavior comes down not to the voyeurism itself - the desire to watch - but other factors more directly related to antisocial behavior. This would include obsessive attitudes leading to stalking, and criminal invasion of privacy - the difference between watching a woman undress in front of an open window, and breaking into her home and installing a hidden video camera. The problem is not the watching, it's the willingness of the individual to violate others' rights and privacy. And if that woman consented to have a video camera installed in her home, so that perverts could watch her online, then there's nothing wrong with that either. Voyeurism is a fundamental part of human nature - unless, perhaps, if you're blind.

So, to conclude, the point of this discussion, as all of my discussions of this sort, is not to look at sexuality as some kind of deviant impulse that needs to be closely watched and controlled, and constantly put down and insulted. If bad people do bad things with sexual motives, don't punish the sex. Punish the bad person for his willingness to do bad things. Punishing the sex just hurts everyone else, by propagating confusion and unhealthy attitudes toward sexuality, which is a fundamental part of the organic living experience - and what can be an intensely positive and creative (rather than destructive) part of that experience, if approached with the right attitude.

"See and let yourself be seen."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Oops, I didn't post anything in February...

I've been really busy. But then, it seems like that's never not the case.

I don't think anyone reads this blog. It's too bad; they're missing out on some great exclusive content. ;-)

Mediocrity (and the Pressure to be Great)

The hardest thing is taking mediocre photographs. The bad ones are easily discarded, and the good ones are eagerly displayed. But those in the middle - it's always hardest for me to decide what to do with them. I'm talking about the ones that aren't great photographs, but have something in them, maybe just a single isolated quality, that I have a hard time tossing aside. I want to share that quality, but I don't want to devalue my photography by producing a lot of subpar material.

And yet, if I think about it, I've already made the decision. There are other photographers that produce only high quality work (although the truth of it is that they only share their high quality work), and as much as I envy those photographers for being so talented and so professional, they're not me.

I'm still only learning - honing my craft, if you will - and I'm probably not at a level where I can pump out a heavy concentration of high quality material. Although admitting that - and each time I share a mediocre photograph, I am admitting that to myself and the world - still makes me feel uncomfortable.

But additionally, I've already decided that the photographs I share with the world - at least through the venue of my flickr photostream - are not to be considered the best selection of my work. This is not a portfolio to show off my skills. It is more like a scrapbook, where all of my work goes (all of it worth holding onto, anyway). And there is value in that, despite the complaints you'll hear from people who feel they are drowning in a deluge of amateurs producing quantity over quality.

My work is not just about the end results (the good photographs); it is a process, and a document of my progress through the years - both as an artist, and as a human being. So the near-misses that merely hint at something of interest are important, because they point the way toward future successes. And while many artists undergo this process in the dark - behind closed doors, as it were - keeping their failures and their mediocrities to themselves, I have chosen the path of transparency, sharing my humanity and my fallibility with the world.

Because one thing I resent is the image of the "professional" - the talented laborer who produces only works of great ability, who never fails. And the fact that the process from amateur to professional is so frequently hidden. It promotes the idea that we are not allowed to learn, and we are not allowed to be amateurs. We must toil in the dark until we are perfect, and only then can we show ourselves to the world. Otherwise we risk the ridicule of being compared to the greats, and coming up short beside them.

And that is exactly the trepidation I feel every time I share a work of mediocrity, because I couldn't bring myself to destroy it simply because it wasn't great. But I'll make that sacrifice in the hope that it will inspire other future artists and professionals not to be afraid to make mistakes - because they must be made if one is to learn from them. And maybe someday, the climate will change, and people won't be so afraid of failure. Because you cannot succeed once without failing many more times first.

And furthermore, if there is something in a work of mediocrity worth saving it from the trash bin, then others may see that, and may benefit from it, even though the work is not great. They may be inspired towards greatness as a result. Or it may simply be enough to brighten their day. Not everything in the world is great, nor can it be.