Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Difficulty With Culling

So one of the major difficulties with self-portrait photography is that, because the photographer must double as the model, he must be standing in front of the camera when the shutter goes off, and can therefore not see the precise image being taken until after it has been taken, in most cases (excepting mirror reflections).

As a result, in many cases, self-portrait photography involves a whole lot of trial and error, which can sometimes translate to lots of similar pictures to cull through. This is a plus and minus, because sometimes, the picture you thought was good turns out to be blurry, or you find some other problem with it, and taking a lot of alternates yields a better chance to get one that's magic.

The minus is that sometimes, you don't get one or two shots that clearly stand out from the rest - and then you have to consider whether that's because none of the shots are that good, or if it's because none of them are all that bad. But in those instances, it can be very difficult to choose which one(s) to share, especially when different ones have different qualities you like. But you don't want to post them all, because they would be highly repetitious when viewed in sequence.

Usually, I'm capable of making a decision (even if it's a tough one) - after all, that's part of the job description, and I consider it part of the talent that goes into being a visual artist. But sometimes, just sometimes, I have to throw my arms up in the air and say, "fuck it!"

I mean, any one of these pictures would probably be sexy enough on its own, but with so many to choose from, I couldn't make a decision. I remember thinking as I was taking these pictures that if I took enough of them, I would get one at just the right angle that it would look fantastic. What I ended up with was almost a hundred more and less subtle variations on the same theme. These are just the best of the best of them (in my opinion), and I just can't choose any more between them.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Skirt-Related Realization

One of those things you notice when you wear a short skirt is that if you don't carefully guide the placement of the back of your skirt as you sit down, you might very well place your bare ass (or, more commonly, your pantied bottom) on the cold surface of the chair.

I always thought that motion you constantly see women go through when sitting down was mostly for decorum - to keep the skirt in order, and to protect one's modesty - but now I realize that when the skirt is sufficiently short, it has the very practical purpose of preventing one's skin or underclothes to come in contact with the chair (unless, of course, you like that sort of thing).

For a short enough skirt, though, you may well have that problem with your thighs anyway; and for a REALLY short skirt, like a micro-mini (about the length of that pink dress I wore to a costume convention), you'll be placing your ass on the chair either way, because there's just not enough skirt to cover your ass with your legs bent (which is also a benefit for voyeurs when you bend over to pick something up -_^).

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Surrounded by Beauty

On flickr, I see girls that are gorgeous, living in places with beautiful scenery. Beaches, forests, mountainscapes... And I think to myself, how easy it must be to take beautiful pictures when there are beautiful things all around you.

Now that's not to take anything away from the photographers themselves - I believe the single most important thing a photographer possesses is the ability to see beauty and the drive to capture it.

Some people can pass beauty without recognizing it, others might see it but not feel compelled enough to go out of their way to set up a camera and capture it so it can be shared with others - these are things a photographer does that a photographer deserves to be praised for.

But put a photographer (and sometimes even a non-photographer) in front of a beautiful subject and they will almost certainly be able to capture a beautiful photograph.

Where I'm going with this is, I'm jealous of all the beautiful people who live in such beautiful places. But, it does make me feel better about myself that I can manage to take a great picture every once in a while despite what I have to work with.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Evaluate My Art

I have a question for those of you in my audience. And while I appreciate flattery elsewhere, right now I'm looking for an honest critique. I know you like my art - you've said as much with your faves, comments, and messages. But compared to other erotic photographers - regardless of whether they consider themselves artists or pornographers - is my work special in any way? Does it stand out, or is it just more of the same sexy pictures you get from any number of sources?

Because, though my enthusiasm for my work is charged by my interest in voyeurism and exhibitionism, there's more to it than that. I don't take pictures just because I get some sexual thrill out of it (although I do at times). I take them because I have a passion for photography. I'm intrigued by the challenge of depicting eroticism in a visual medium, but I am also concerned with the aesthetics of beauty, and not just raw sexuality.

The reason I ask is partly because I want to become better at what I do, and partly because I'm a little curious as to the reason why I don't have more opportunities to pursue my passion. For example, I want beautiful models to say, "ooh, I want to be photographed by him!" I want magazines to want to show my work. I want publishers to be hunting me down for book deals. And I want to be critically acclaimed among a larger community than "flickr perverts" (as much as I appreciate them).

And I want to know if the reason I'm not is because my work isn't good enough yet, or if there is another reason. There could be other reasons. It could be because my work is unabashedly sexual. But then, I don't have the porno industry beating down my door, either. It could be because the subject of most of my work is male, and not female which is far more popular; and beyond that, not just any male, but a very peculiar, feminine male. But then, don't people love the allure of the exotic and unusual?

Maybe there's just a much bigger audience for disposable porn - people who look at images to get off by without much concern for artistic quality, one way or the other - than there is for artistic works. Or, it could very well be because I - not only because of the nature of my art - like to keep private (in relative terms), am not extremely sociable, and am not super enthusiastic about putting my skills out on the market and advertising what I do and what I want to do.

It could be any of these reasons, or others, but all I'm asking you is about the quality of my art. Is it exceptional, above average, or just average?

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Sexy is okay if it's covered in the sheen of "glamour". But if it's stripped bare, to its natural essence, it is no longer acceptable. It's somehow too stark and real, and we can't face it. Without all the layers of post-processing, it reminds us of amateur porn.

Natural nudity is okay as long as it's unsexy, but there's something uncomfortable about the natural eroticism of the human body. Frankly, I think natural sexuality is far more beautiful than the flashy accessories of the glamour culture. But why is it less pure? Because it is more direct?

Why is the earring more acceptable than the ear? The lipstick more acceptable than the lip? The stocking more acceptable than the leg? We are permitted to fetishize sexuality because it distracts our attention away from the source of what is sexy, onto a mere symbol. But all this attitude does is reflect on how uncomfortable we are with our sexuality. Our true, raw sexuality.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Nudist Attraction

The mantra "normal, just naked" means neither sexual nor asexual.

I don't see a problem with people being attracted to other people in the textile world (though some do); therefore, I don't see a problem with people being attracted to other people in the nudist world. Just as long as they don't use the fact that the person is nude as some kind of excuse to behave in a manner they wouldn't if they were clothed. Because then you'd be treating the nudist environment as if it had a sexual context, which is inappropriate. (There are "swinger" environments where that sort of thing may be appropriate, but that is another thing entirely).

However, it's fair game to appreciate what's in public view in the textile world, so I don't see any problem with appreciating the special opportunity to view a person nude that exists within the nudist world - but again, as long as you aren't behaving in a manner that's bound to make someone uncomfortable. Ogling is usually considered impolite in the textile world - so, too, is it considered impolite in the nudist world. On the other hand, if you can't stand the idea of people appreciating your naked body, then maybe getting naked in front of strangers (no matter how polite) isn't the best thing for you.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Educating New Generations

I realize this is a very thorny topic, but it really is of the utmost importance, and not talking about it only serves to make matters worse. As far as cultural attitudes go - which influence individual opinions - what we believe influences what we teach new generations. And if those beliefs are toxic, then we need to be extra careful not to let them influence what we teach our children. Now on the topic of sexuality, I believe that many of our cultural attitudes, and therefore many people's individual opinions, are toxic. And the best way to cut them out (seeing as people are very stubborn about changing their longheld beliefs and traditions, even when they want to) is to prevent new generations from picking them up in the first place.

In other words, we have to teach our children right. But on the topic of sexuality, we're so paranoid about children these days, that we'd rather teach them nothing at all, or wait until long after it's too late. But they're learning, nonetheless. They're picking things up from their environment, from the media, and from their peers, and they're picking up cues from their parents' attitudes toward sex as well, even if unintentionally. As a parent, you can either be an active part of that learning process, or you can step aside and let the chips fall where they may (which I would not recommend).

I mean, we can't teach children sex-negative values and then expect them to instantly adopt sex-positive values once they're "old enough". It's an unbroken continuum of knowledge. Children eventually become adults, and the things they were taught as children form a strong foundation for what they believe as adults. I just don't believe that a healthy attitude toward sex is something that has to be recovered through therapy (of one form or another) from the ashes of a sex-negative upbringing. We ought to teach people to view sex from a healthy perspective the first time around.

I know, nobody wants their children 'getting ideas' about sex when they're still so young. There is such a thing as age-appropriateness. But it ought to be guided more by the child's curiosity and development than its parents' fears. Properly educating children about sex does NOT mean oversexualizing them, but it doesn't mean DE-sexualizing them, either. Nor does it mean "protecting" them by hiding sex from them. If they're curious, sate their curiosity. If they're uninterested, don't bug them with it, but make sure you're available when they do begin to have questions.

And above all, be open and honest and don't fall prey to the trap of thinking that certain subjects aren't "appropriate" for children. You can tell your kids that having sex isn't appropriate until a certain age, but you can't tell them that knowing about sex isn't appropriate. Withholding knowledge when the curiosity exists is extremely dangerous. They will seek out the knowledge elsewhere, and the information they get can be harmful to them (as well as the lack of knowledge), and they can get it from sources who are not invested in their best interests.

None of this suggests engaging in any kind of inappropriate behavior with children - learning boundaries is an extremely important part of a proper education. It's about knowledge, and prevention. As I said, kids are getting information about sex from every direction, consciously and subconsciously, beyond our control. Much of it is bad. So instead of plugging our ears, why not try countering the bad with some good? By waiting too long to have 'the talk' - which should be ongoing and not a single, isolated event - we've given up on teaching our kids about sex, because they've already picked up the sex-negative, shame-promoting values that permeate society. And that's not healthy.

I see really inspiring pioneers on the subject of sex and society, going on and on about sex-positive this and sex-positive that - and that's great. But then when it comes to the topic of children, it's always, "let's recoil in fear," because it's such a huge taboo, and these people have reputations to protect. But this is not only dangerous for the children, it actually undermines our whole attempt at curing our poisonous attitudes toward sex. Because, what we teach our children is what the next generation of adults is going to believe. And when I see the way we treat children with regard to the topic of sexuality, there is no wonder in my mind that there is so much sexual dysfunction in the adult world.

And it's got to stop. But we're screwed until we begin to realize that.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Taking my photographic and literary work on sexuality as a whole, the majority of the compliments I receive are along the lines of "you're hot". I have no problem with this - a compliment is a compliment, no matter how superficial. And especially considering how vain I am, it boosts my self-confidence knowing that some people find me attractive. Although, it would be a lot more effective if those compliments were coming from people I'd actually be interested in dating, i.e., pretty girls, instead of mostly gay men, crossdressers, and transwomen. Nevertheless, a compliment is still a compliment.

Now, I do sometimes get compliments that are a bit deeper than that, and these are the ones that really keep me going. As a sexual organism, it might be enough for me to know that I'm attractive, but as an artist, it means a lot to me that there are people out there, even if they aren't many, that 'get' my art. And when I say that, I mean that they can appreciate what makes my art unique, and they can get more out of the meaning I put into it than a simple, "this guy is hot". I pour a lot of my thoughts and emotions into my work, and while on a superficial level it often is about crafting an attractive image, there is also often more to it beyond that, and it means something to me that other people are getting that.

And as far as my writing goes, I have gotten compliments on that, too. Although, I don't really feel like I get as much feedback as I'd like. Of course, I'm happy for people to agree with the things I say, and I understand I have a way with words that tends to leave an issue pretty thoroughly examined, but I'd be more confident if there were more people telling me I'm right, or, barring that, explaining why they think I'm wrong.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Naked Nude

In The Naked Nude, a study of the nude in art from history to modernity, author Frances Borzello contrasts the idealized nude of the historical artistic discipline - which emphasizes the beauty and triumph of the human body idealized to a godlike state - with the confrontational aspects of the modern nude - which is on the whole more reflective of reality, and dares to be provocative in a way the fine art nude was never allowed to be.

I've had a niggling problem with this dichotomy all throughout my reading of the book, and here is what it is. My approach toward nudity from an artistic perspective is actually a marriage of the idealism of classical art, and the confrontationalism of modern art. Depictions of old, awkward, and embarrassing bodies in all their realisticality do not interest me much. My pursuit in art is mainly that of the ideal form of beauty.

Yet, at the same time, I spurn the asexual cast of the classical nude. I want my nudes to be works of art that artists can seriously discuss, but I refuse to de-emphasize their sexual power. I want to raise the subject of sexuality itself out of the pit of pornography, and turn eroticism into a fine art ideal, much as "simple" nudity has been allowed to be for so long. In this respect I am entrenched in the modernist camp, yet Borzello's focus on the realism (rather than the idealism) of the modern nude doesn't resonate within me.

Truthfully, I am fascinated by an altogether different idea. Not the artistic embellishment of the human body to godlike proportions, as one can imagine the ancient Greek sculptors had in mind, but a capturing of real world beauty that aspires to that ideal. The realism is what attracts me to photography, yet I am still interested in the ideal. The result is that I want to find ideal models, instead of depicting normality, and instead of embellishing via the imagination. In this I suppose I am of a like mind with the magazine and fashion industries - and that is probably true - except my sole motivation is art and not profit.

And if you don't think that kind of perfection exists naturally in this world - I've seen it. You just have to look for it. (And of course, there's a subjective element to it as well).

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

On Body Confidence

I used to think I was pretty average-looking, because I couldn't compare to the movie stars and fashion models. Then I discovered that most people don't look that good, in fact - I hate to sound conceited, but - they don't even look as good as me. Since then I've gained a lot more confidence in my appearance.

But I don't blame the movie stars and fashion models for that. I am an aesthetic artist. I idolize beauty, and refuse to apologize for it. I also recognize that my lack of self-confidence is a problem of my own psychology as much as a reflection of the messages that are directed to me by the media. Blaming other people isn't the way to get any better.

If anything can help, instead of censoring portrayals of beauty, it's balancing those portrayals with other portrayals of normality. Of course people idolize beauty - beauty is defined as a desirable attribute. But if all people ever see are beautiful people then it's going to skew their view of normality.

My friend insists - and I agree with her - that exposure to a nudist environment ought to do wonders for a person's body image. That sort of exposure ought to be mandatory - especially, in my opinion, during adolescence, when people are most self-conscious about their bodies.

When people see how plain, even flawed (rather than ideally beautiful) most people are, and how they can still have fun and take pride in their bodies and lead happy lives in spite of that, it has a great potential to improve their opinion of their own bodies, and put the idolization of beauty into perspective (without requiring its elimination).

Another thing that has helped improve my body confidence is my experience as an erotic model. People talk on about how posing for erotic pictures objectifies and commodifies one's body. But having people drooling over me proves that I am desirable, even if I don't think I'm perfect. Noone can be wanted by everyone, but it proves that there are some people out there who do think I am perfect just the way I am.

If you've got flaws, then putting yourself out there to be judged can be an ordeal - I understand that. I've been through it. But I've come out the other side. And I've found that nobody is as judgmental as yourself. For every person who doesn't like one aspect of your body, another person will love you for it. That's the great thing about perverts - in their diversity and sexual enthusiasm they can balance all the criticism in the world.

I don't see why people get so down on perverts, when what they're doing is spreading the joy of sexual pleasure throughout the world. Why are we hung up instead on how indulging in sexual pleasure is evil? It's puritanical, and masochistic in a sense, but above all unhealthy. But that's a topic for another discussion.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Comment Culture

On flickr, my go-to photo sharing community website, there is a subset of the userbase that thinks that if you 'favorite' any of their images without posting a comment, you are being impolite, and that this is grounds for 'blocking' you from any further interaction from their stream of photos. The following is my response to those who would say, "faves without comment will be blocked."

I like comments. I don't think anyone doesn't like comments, in general - just specific ones that are insulting or negative or creepy or whatever. But the concept of blocking a person for faving one or more (or even many) of your photos without leaving a comment is kooky.

Aren't we all photographers here? Doesn't that make us visual types? Some of us may be good verbal communicators, but others of us are not, and how can you punish us for that, in a venue dedicated to visual art? Forcing a person to comment just encourages brainless comments (which, granted, some people find value in) like "good", "wow", "amazing", "beautiful", "incredible", etc.

And yes, those comments are nice, and they may very well be legitimate. I often find myself saying those very words, under my breath, while browsing through photos on flickr. But to me, it just seems empty to post a comment to that effect, when a dozen other people have already done the same - sometimes word for word.

To me, faving an image is my way of saying, "wow, this is amazing, I really like it, kudos" - without wasting breath on those words. If I have something specific and unique to say about an image, I'll say it. But if all I have to say is, "nice", then what's the point, right? And if I choose not to speak, but still like your image enough to favorite it, how could you punish me for that? That's insane.

It's fine to encourage comments - sometimes a little encouragement is just what is needed to break the ice and get people to speak up about their feelings. But to require a certain kind of reaction to your work is nonsense.

And if you're getting enough favorites that you can afford to be picky, then congratulations. Lucky you. But popularity isn't the only indicator of quality, and neither is it an indication of good character.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Look, but don't touch

Have you ever noticed that people do a whole lot of touching each other? Hugs, handshakes, high fives, pats on the back. But when it comes to seeing a person's body, we cover up in fright. We save our nudity for special persons - close friends, close family, significant others - but touching a stranger is no big deal.

Well it just so happens that I'm the opposite way. I like touching people I am intimate with, but I don't like being touched by strangers. Even simple things like hugs and handshakes and high fives and pats on the back. On the other hand, it doesn't make a difference to me who sees my body and how much of it. My naked body is on public display, and I couldn't care less.

If you ask me, looking is far less intrusive than touching. But that's not the way social customs are, and so I have to be uncomfortable (forced to cover my body up, and forced to be touched by strangers), and be told that I'm eccentric for being the way I am.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Opening Up To Sex

I didn't experience orgasm until I was 17. And it wasn't for lack of sexual desire. It was for lack of knowledge. I'm sure a lot of people figure out what to do on their own, but I was not one of them. I knew what it meant to get hard, and I knew that it felt good, especially the friction against my pants when I looked at pictures of scantily clad women in magazines and on the internet, but beyond that I didn't know what to do with myself. Sex ed didn't teach me how to masturbate; it didn't teach me how to have sex, it taught me how to have babies. As if there were no sex without babies - and god knows I didn't want to have babies right then (or now).

But there is sex without babies. I eventually figured it out, with help from a vague tip via some dirty song lyric. You could argue that such material is not appropriate for kids (reminder: I was 17) because it gives them "ideas", but many kids, as I said, figure it out on their own, and there's just no reliable way to keep kids from getting the information they want (I, on the other hand, was voluntarily sheltered from my dirtier peers - at least until high school). And who's to say they shouldn't have it?

What effect did "sexual awakening" have on my life? I had already undergone puberty. I was already "wasting" time thinking about girls, long before I understood in detail what I wanted to do with them. And even if sex is distracting, why should we not spend time thinking about it, and engaging in it? We "waste" time every day thinking about food and how to stay nourished. Sure, we can't survive long without food, and we can without sex (though not in the long run, as a species) - but in what condition? If sex makes us feel better, why should we refrain from indulging in it? Of course, there is a point which can be called "too much", but not everyone is an addict. Sex is a fundamental part of life, we ought not to expend much energy trying to forcibly keep people in the dark about it - which is exactly what we currently do.

Some people argue that sexual liberation leads to "loose" sex. For some people this might be true. But I don't consider it a necessary condition. Being sexually liberated may lead to me having more sex than I would otherwise have had, and, in a qualitative sense, "freer" (that is to say, "more fun") sex, but it hasn't caused me to drop my guard and open the floodgates to anyone and everyone. I am no less responsible nor careful a sex partner than I was before I started having sex. The only way this argument holds is if any sex is considered too much sex, and I've already stated my argument against that. On the other hand, being open and honest (rather than repressed and fearful) about sexuality is a great step towards having healthy and responsible sex.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The 'Evils' of Pornography

It is widely said that the American view of nudity is neurotic - especially among Europeans. This is absolutely true, although that's not to say that Europeans have no hangups about nudity. It is said, also, that the American view of sex is similarly corrupt. With that I would agree. However, I have qualms with some of the popular views on how to fix that problem, especially considering that European views of sexuality are not in all cases a lot better than America's.

For one thing, it may be true that more exposure to nudity yields a healthier approach toward sex. I am in support of that theory. But those theories that glorify the wholesomeness of nudity all too often fall into the trap of shaming sex in the same deft stroke. "Nudity is wholesome because it is devoid of sex - a fact that Americans don't understand," they might say.

Well I ask you, if you are concerned about fixing attitudes toward sex, you think that's going to happen by keeping sex in the dark, and reinforcing the belief that it is unwholesome? What about depictions of sex - all too often depictions of sex are singled out as being uniquely problematic. Something about 'pornography' is evil in a way that sex between two people is not. Is that right?

I see pornography not as the sordid stereotype of an evil industry intent on exploiting and commodifying women for a profit at the hands of the objectifying gaze of horny men. I see pornography as depictions of sexuality, that can be as healthy and wholesome as they can be sordid and dirty. Pornography is not evil, it is neutral. That men may use pornography as a weapon against women doesn't negate its power to uplift sexuality to a higher level.

And pornography is not a synonym for violence. If anything, more pornography and less violent media (not the same thing) would improve our culture's relationship toward sex. But anyway, viewing sex through the eyes of deadbeat jerks who don't treat women well is bound to sour you on relations between the sexes. Whether or not that sort of thing is common, it's not intrinsic to the issue.

And even though men use pornography to glorify the sexual desirability of women, I don't see that as being an evil, either. Only a sex negative view could take the attraction between the sexes and reframe it as a battle for supremacy. If it is an issue of too little diversity in the women whose images are being propped up as desirable, then the solution is to create more images with more diversity, not to apply censorship to images of women any given man (much less the majority) would rate as highly desirable.

Amateur pornography is working toward that end, showing that all sorts of normal people can find sexual satisfaction, without being "perfect". The magazine industry is not evil, or at least if it is, it's evil because it adheres to a capitalist framework, and not because it utilizes sex appeal toward the end of making a profit. If you want to complain about evil, don't talk about pornography, talk about capitalism instead.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"What's your sexual fetish?"

I prefer to describe it as my sexual taste. Naming the things I like, and describing them as fetishes, seems to take all the poetry and humanity out of it.

I am attracted to lithe young girls with long limbs and light hair and pale skin. I like bare feet and summer dresses and smooth sunlit skin. I like public nudity and completely naked bodies among nature. I like bows and flowing gowns and things that sparkle. I also like clothes that are tight and revealing - short shorts, bikinis, flip flops. I like grace and composure and restraint, but also passion and eroticism. I like pretty panties, more while they are being worn than after they come off. I like girls who are smart and cute and mature beyond their years, but still playful. I like ballerinas and gymnasts and princesses. I like girls who aren't intimidated by their own sex appeal.

What's your pleasure?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Beauty Image

It's true that when I put on this smoking hot bikini, I get jealous of the hot girls out there who look so much better than I do. I think about how hot those girls look in a bikini, and it frustrates me that I don't look like they do.

I guess this could be a statement about magazine models and how "evil" they are for warping our expectations of beauty, and forcing insecure people to develop shame and poor body image and eating disorders and whatnot. But I have nothing against beautiful people. I envy them, but if they didn't exist, [my] life would be so much darker. I'd have nothing to look at.

I might wish I looked better than I do, but I'm not ashamed of the way I look. I'm not afraid to stand naked before strangers - I'm a nudist, after all, not to mention an erotic model. And when people tell me I look good, I (usually) believe them. I'm vain and I'm a narcissist, so you know I know I'm beautiful. But I'm a guy, and I wish I had a perfectly girlish figure. There are different angles to it, as it's a complicated issue.

And the last thing I'm going to do is complain about beautiful people being beautiful. I think it's important to cultivate a positive body image, but part of that is accepting that beauty is subjective, and some people will look more attractive (to you, to me, to anybody) than others. And after all, there's nothing wrong with maintaining your appearance. Getting or staying in shape. It's all about having a healthy attitude and approach.

We can't all be aesthetic gods and goddesses. And we don't all have to. But let the ones who are, enjoy it. And enjoy it yourself by getting an eyeful. One of the reasons I want to be attractive is because I feel guilty looking at attractive people, because of the fallout from sexual repression. If I didn't have to feel bad staring at beautiful people, I'd feel less of a need to be a flawless beauty myself. It's like, if I want anything in life, I have to get it for myself. To all the beautiful people out there, don't horde, please. Share the beauty. Commodifying it only places it in demand, leading to greed and unhealthy attempts to attain it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Defining Pornography

Pornography is a notoriously hard word to define. Although it should simply be a matter of verbalizing the concept the word denotes, there is too much variation in its use, and too much subjectivity involved. If we say that pornography is material that sexually arouses the viewer, then we are lost, because vastly different things arouse different people, and what arouses one frequently disgusts another. Alternatively, if we define pornography as obscenity, then we are losing base with anyone who thinks their porn is inoffensive, perhaps even beautiful. We can define pornography as material that explicitly depicts sexual activity, but then we have to contend with people who insist that nudes can be porn, and with fetishists who insist that shoe catalogs are porn. We can either just as stubbornly insist that they're wrong, or try to find a more inclusive and precise definition for what makes porn porn.

And things get even messier when we get into the shouting match between pornography and erotic art ("art" being another notoriously hard word to define). It's easy to just say that all erotic art is a form of pornography (even if a more sophisticated form), but if there is a meaningful distinction between "porn" and "fine art porn" - and I believe there is - then how do we denote that in our definition of pornography? And if we define porn based on what it depicts, then where does softcore erotica fall in - material that intends to be sexy but does not depict explicit sexual activity? Should we include intention in our definition? If anything that arouses can be porn, then anything in the world could count as porn to the right person.

My favorite working definition for "pornography" is any visual or written material that is created solely with the expectation of inciting sexual arousal. Thus, amateurs who share images online and companies who sell them for profit are both producing pornography, because their aim is to incite animal lust and nothing else. But art, even when lewd, differentiates itself from porn by containing another level (or multiple levels) beyond the sole intent to arouse. It may arouse, or it may disgust - and this may be a calculated part of its effect - but there exists in it some other level of interpretation in addition (or in substitution) to that. The nature of that level may not be obvious or even well-defined, but it exists, and that's what makes it art.

On the other hand, lots of material not intended to incite sexual arousal may well do so when viewed by the right person. This material does not become porn just because somebody gets off to it. It was not created as pornography, it does not make sense to realistically describe it as such. What about explicit depictions of sexual activity that are not created to incite sexual arousal? This could be pictures taken for educational or research purposes, or pictures taken with the intent to disgust viewers with the vulgarity of our animal nature (even as others will surely be turned on by such sights). It seems contrary to the creator's intent to call this pornography, even though others (e.g., judges and law officers) may effectively do as much.

The problem, really, is that the word "pornography" is used in too many different ways. I think it may be just as productive to dispense of the word altogether, and start afresh. We need a word to describe media that depicts explicit sexual activity, regardless of intent or interpretation. We need to decide if there should be a different word for different forms of media (written, visual, audiovisual, etc.). We need another word for material that, personally, turns a person on, regardless of content or intent, that could be applied to anything, non-judgmentally. And we could probably do with another word to describe the sort of material produced by the media industry interested in turning people on. What they produce may or may not depict explicit sexual activity, and may or may not, in actuality, turn any particular person on, but it is material designed to turn some person on.

As I write now, it becomes clear to me that we need a different word to denote three separate forms of pornography - porn in content, porn in intention, and porn in interpretation. Porn in content would be a straightforward and objective determination - either it depicts sex or it does not. Porn in intent is simply a matter of asking the creator, "do you intend to turn people on?" And porn in interpretation is the most subjective form, which is anything that turns a person on, and will depend on the person being asked, and should therefore be a word forever married to its subject, as in "my porn" and "your porn". These three forms may certainly overlap at times, but this will absolutely not always be the case.

I leave it as an exercise for our culture at large to discuss this proposal, and (with a vain hope) determine the appropriate words that shall henceforth be used. Certainly, if one of my readers has any ideas, please chime in among the comments.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Birthday Project

As a Capricorn, I've been thinking about birthdays recently, and as a nudist, I can't help but make the connection implied by the term "birthday suit". It just seems to me a perfect opportunity to integrate nudism into the lifestyle of our mainstream culture. We are born nude, it only makes sense that birthday parties should be celebrated either wholly nude, as a nudist party, or at the very least, it should be expected that the birthday honoree attends the party naked - that is, in his/her birthday suit!

Obviously this wouldn't fly with our neurotic fear and deeply rooted shame surrounding nudity, and our obsession with body privacy. But in a more relaxed culture it would be perfect. We ought to celebrate our birthdays dressed in the garb in which we were born! The real shame is that so many people in today's modern Western culture would view it as a punishment to either have to attend their own birthday party nude, or to have to look at somebody else's naked body on their birthday, when it should be a precious opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of nudism.

I came upon a related idea while musing on the birthday suit that I think might be considerably more palatable to a mainstream audience than nudist birthday parties. And it ties in to my interest in photography. It seems to me that a lot more people than you might think can appreciate the artistic value of a nude portrait - even people who are not considered traditionally attractive. You might even go so far as to say that it is empowering to have oneself photographed in the nude, provided it's nonsexual (that's another issue entirely) and done by a professional, respected photographer.

Well, it occurs to me that it would be fascinating to mark the changes in one's body as s/he grows through the years. And would it not be interesting to have such a document of one's growth? I think it makes perfect sense for those who are interested in such things to have a nude full-body portrait taken every year on their birthday. It could be a great and exciting tradition if integrated into mainstream culture. Every portrait studio that specializes in those dull, repetitive 'senior portraits' could offer a new service - birthday portraits!

And it seems obvious to me that the most interesting years to document would be the ones in which the human body grows the most drastically - that is, the period from infancy to adulthood. Persons who are not committed to sticking with the practice their full lives could at least retain a document of their growth to adulthood. No doubt, anything involving nude portraits of children would raise no end of controversy, but I find it truly disheartening that we restrict such a unique subset of beauty from being depicted because of fears of elusive perverts.

At any rate, parents' consent would be obtained, the individual's privacy would be taken seriously, and the document could remain entirely personal if it is the subject's desire (I regret not having such a document of myself). Alternatively, if so inspired, they could share it with friends or family. And the practice, itself, I think, would go a long way in dispelling this unfortunate taboo we have on nudity in this culture, restoring it to a deserving position of wholesomeness, wonder, and respect.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

More Thoughts on Sex, Gender, and Orientation

I want to say that the trans world - people who don't identify with their assigned sex/gender - is very different from the gay world - people with a (specific) alternative sexual orientation. This seems obvious (after all they aren't the same thing), but the trouble is, I don't really identify with the trans world, either. I don't see myself as a 'trans person', the way a homosexual might see himself as a 'gay person'.

Maybe it's just that I don't identify with the dominant paradigm of what it means to be trans. Maybe I feel like how a bi person might feel, not quite fitting in with the straights, but not totally fitting in with the gays either. Maybe it's because I feel like I'm transgender, but the trans image focuses on transsexuality. I.e., a trans person is someone who undergoes sexual reassignment surgery (or desires to), and - incidentally - is attracted to the opposite sex they (will or have) become.

In that sense, they are 'straight' transpersons, where a 'gay' transperson would be attracted to the same sex they identify as. Yet, if you're a non-op trans person - which is already unusual, because the trans identity seems to presuppose a desire to change one's body to suit one's mind (maybe we need a 'soft trans', trans with a lowercase 't', to designate gender-crossers who aren't interested in serious sexual solutions like surgery) - those designations flip. If you're attracted to the gender (the mental side of your 'sex') you identify as, you appear straight, because your body's sex is the opposite of the sex of the bodies you are attracted to.

But that presumes you're attracted to a sex and not a gender, or a sex more than a gender. Is it possible that some people are attracted to genders more than sex? What about a bi person who prefers persons who are feminine (or masculine) regardless of their physical sex? How would you define their orientation? People like to make sexual orientation all cut and dry, where everyone has a primary orientation based on attraction to physical sexual characteristics. And then everything else more refined is either one's type or - if it's not socially accepted - one's fetish. So one person's preference for blonde hair is a type, but another person's preference for black cock is a fetish.

I'm not totally against labeling certain types as unusual or abnormal in the strict, literal sense, but we can still acknowledge them as unusual types - representing normal sexual functioning merely directed at unusual targets - and not presuppose they are demonstrations of abnormal sexual functioning in and of itself (so, either get rid of the term 'fetish' or, as I would recommend, consider fetishism a normal part of human sexuality). It severely limits our ability to label and understand the vast diversity of human sexuality if we are constantly affixing moral judgments to every discovery we make.

It's true that some people can be more and less attracted to different targets, such that they can function sexually with a partner who does not represent their ideal type. But does this undermine their statement of their sexual orientation? I would be willing to bet a lot of money that a factually heterosexual male (not one who just claims in denial that he's straight, but who actually is straight and not even a little gay) could still be aroused by a homoerotic stimulus.

Because that's just how our physiology works - there's a mental component, absolutely, but there's also a purely physical component that is not entirely under the control of the mind. Being turned on in that situation doesn't necessarily make one gay. A gay person is more likely to enjoy (on something other than a pure physical, sexual level) that experience and actively seek it out (if he is not in denial about his orientation).

What, then, about people who have a specific type, but are capable of mating outside of that type? Are we to say that their orientation, for example, is to women and not blonde women? But don't non-blonde women possess largely the same characteristics outside of hair color that blondes possess, on the average? Yes, it's true that this person is attracted to women - but a specific type of woman. Saying "attraction to women" is not really enough to pin down his sexual orientation because I'm sure there are women out there he would not have any interest in fucking.

Maybe there are people out there so libidinous that they actually would have sex with just about anyone within a broad category like 'adult females' or what have you. But I think a lot of people are also not like this, and I would hazard a guess that it's the majority. So maybe our concept of sexual orientation itself is too simplistic. What does it hurt to try and update our understanding of sexual orientation with better knowledge of how it functions? Especially in a world where the straight, procreation-only paradigm is inadequate to explain the full diversity of the population?

That procreation requires a man and a woman - any virile man with any fertile woman - need not dictate our preferred sexual practices, when anything other than making babies is the intent. And to disparage anything other than the coupling of a man and a woman as perverse is simply uncivilized. It's time we adopted a more evolved understanding of human sexuality. To do otherwise is to hamper the advance of knowledge, undermining the very purpose of study - but, I fear, is something a lot of moral researchers would be keen to do...

In short, we should replace the concept of 'orientation' which presupposes the answer straight/gay/or bi (which already has the problem of equating sex with gender, and not considering the difficulty of labeling transpersons) with the concept of 'who (or even what) you are attracted to'. We can still use the same term, 'orientation', but the idea should be about attraction, in whatever form it takes, not some small collection of claustrophobic boxes as if to say, you must either be a man who likes women, a woman who likes men, a man who likes men, a woman who likes women, or a man or woman who likes both men and women.

It's better than having just the first two options, to be sure, but it's still far too limiting and doesn't reflect the reality of human diversity. We can still fall back on those options for generalizations - I understand that simplification can be very useful - but they should not be the end of the story, and, above all, we should not expect them to be the end of the story.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Boys and Girls

When I was little, nobody asked me whether I wanted to be a boy or a girl. Most people assume (even if they accept that there are exceptions) that gender is determined by anatomical sex. It's not that I felt like I wanted to be a girl and nobody let me - the thought never even crossed my mind (well, maybe every now and then, but it was a passing fancy and not something I paid much heed to).

I followed the conventional line of thinking and assumed I was a boy - there was no question. I never considered the fact that I might fit in with the female stereotype more than the male stereotype, because I didn't really fit in with anything.

There wasn't much experimentation, either, because I was infected with the mainstream fear of crossing gender boundaries - "boys must never be girls". And because I was and am physically and emotionally attracted to girls, it never occurred to me that being a boy was somehow "wrong" for me.

Isn't it funny how people mix up gender identity with sexual orientation? I guess that's a symptom of heteronormative thinking - guys like girls and girls like guys. If I were a girl, I'd still like girls. That neither makes me gay nor straight, because both of those terms assume two things - both what you are and who you're attracted to.

I know who I'm attracted to, but I'm really not quite certain what I am. And I don't think it's necessarily clean-cut. It's easier for me to describe myself as both male and female, rather than just one or the other. So, I'm kind of gender fluid, yet I'm still pretty conventional, sexually. The one doesn't presume the other.

What is gender, anyway, if we separate it from anatomical sex? How much of it is physiological, and how much of it is sociological? This is not an easy question to answer comprehensively. But it is clear, in my experience, that gender is not equivalent to anatomical sex.

Can a person's internal gender really be male if they prefer to express themselves as female? If they identify more with femininity? Even though they were born with a penis? Even if they don't have any desire to get rid of that penis?

I wonder how many lesbians wish they were born as straight males, or how many would delight to have a penis attached to their feminine body. I am sure it would not be all of them, though, for that presupposes once again the heteronormative framework - that girls who like girls must want to be guys.

There is such a great diversity in both sexuality and gender. Let's celebrate that diversity instead of trying to stuff people into prefab boxes. Instead of criticizing and ridiculing people who crawl out of their socially-designated boxes. Okay?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Controlling Interpretation

Sometimes I read comments from photographers on flickr who are concerned about people faving their photos (especially "innocent" or "artistic" photos) "as porn". In other words, a "creep" favorites a photo, and a quick look at their favorites reveals what quite obviously appears to be a porn collection more so than an art exhibition. We'll ignore the difficulty of drawing the line between art and porn here and just assume that, as it is in some cases, the difference is clear.

My question is, how much control does, or should, an artist have over how their art is interpreted? I leave it up to each individual artist to decide, as it is their decision, but perhaps I can make an argument for what a reasonable expectation would be. If you produce a work of art, that is not intended to be "wank material", and another person wanks to it, should you, the artist, be offended?

This question digs at the root of the power struggle between intent and interpretation. Some artists leave their art fully up to interpretation, maintaining an air of mystery over each piece's original intent. Other artists share their intention, while allowing for others to form their own interpretations. But is it reasonable for an artist to reject a person's interpretation if it clashes with their intention, or their principles and values as a person?

This is the very struggle of the artist. The art is a part of the artist, and often a very important part - a very meaningful, sometimes emotional part. But the whole point of sharing art is to give it, in some form, to other people. To let other people experience it. And while the expectation may be for the viewer to experience, specifically, what the artist intended for a particular piece, the truth is, it's a two-way exchange.

As soon as you bring in the spectator, he or she becomes part of the exchange, and, in his or her mind - if not in the mind of the artist (who may or may not be 'married' to the original intent of the piece) - he or she becomes part of the art, and his or her interpretation further shapes that art. Now, if an artist is not willing to let go of the piece, to a small extent - he doesn't have to 'give it up' - and allow others to interpret it as they will, then that artist should not be sharing it in the first place. In my opinion.

But, this does not mean that the artist himself has to leave himself open to be molded by the interpretations of his art. He can, at his own discretion, accept or reject any and all interpretations that are made, and he can choose either to adapt his original interpretation of the art, or, he can also choose to stick to the original intent. He can separate his interpretation from that of others, if he so desires.

Granted, a piece of art reflects on the artist, as it does the other way around, but I think it's dangerous to be so sensitive about interpretations that an artist restricts the possible interpretations allowed for his piece of art. Because, in essence, this is thought control. If somebody thinks your art is porn, that does not mean that you agree with that interpretation. It doesn't mean that you support that interpretation, either. But it says a lot about your strength of character if you allow that interpretation to be made, even though you may disagree with it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dear Pozzie

Today's post is a guest post by a good friend of mine - Sex Pozzie, The Sex Positive Advice Columnist - responding to a young woman's concern over her mom's boyfriend's request to see a naked picture of her.

Dear Pozzie,

My mom's dating this really nice guy. He's a little bit awkward, but very gentle. I wanted to get him something for his birthday, so I asked my mom what he would like. She told me she'd ask him, and then she came back and told me he wanted a naked picture of me. I was outraged! Isn't that totally inappropriate? And my mom didn't think a thing of it. Should I disown her? What am I supposed to do?

- Creeped Out Daughter

Dear COD,

Don't you think you're overreacting just a little bit? Now I don't know what your relationship is like between you and your mother, and I don't know your mom's boyfriend well enough to tell you whether or not he poses any threat to you or your mom, but just going by what you said, it seems like he's a nice enough guy.

If he's going out with your mom, it's safe to assume he's attracted to her. Assuming you weren't adopted, I wouldn't be going out on a limb to presume you look a lot like a younger version of your mother - and we all know a lot of guys dig on youth in women. So it's no surprise he's attracted to you.

Is it inappropriate for him to request a naked picture of you, when he's going out with your mother? Perhaps, but that depends on the context. First, you wanted to know what he'd like from you for his birthday, so maybe he's just being honest. Honesty is an admirable quality - and much too rare these days.

Second, your mom asked him - you didn't ask him yourself - so it's not like he said it straight to your face. He's in an intimate relationship with your mom, and while you think it might be inappropriate for him to express an attraction to another woman - his girlfriend's daughter, no less - that's something between him and your mother. Not every couple is as jealously guarded as one might think they ought to be.

And lastly, it's not at all clear that your mom's boyfriend has any real designs on you. Maybe it was only a joke that he wanted a naked picture of you. Or even if he was serious, maybe he understands that it's a line, and he doesn't intend to cross it, and he was - again - just being honest about his feelings.

Now, maybe it was a bad decision for your mother to have relayed that information to you - and it's certainly within your prerogative to tell her that it bothered you - but that depends on the relationship between you and your mother. If it's a good one - especially if it's a close one - I wouldn't be particularly alarmed. She's just including you in her circle of intimacy, and as long as she's not overbearing, I don't see any harm in that. A lot of women would envy you that kind of relationship with their mother.

Of course, all of this advice could be void if there are other mitigating factors regarding your relationship with your mother and the personality and background of your mom's boyfriend, but I'm working on good faith that if there were other such important details, you would not have overlooked mentioning them in your letter. Indeed, from what you have written, I see no cause at all to be alarmed.

My advice to you is: try to loosen up and relax. Don't be so uptight about sex. Maybe even try some nude modeling sometime - even if just by yourself, in front of a mirror, and if you delete the pictures immediately afterward. You never know the positive effect it could have on you. And if you feel confident enough, you could try sharing those pictures, either with someone you trust, or totally anonymously. It doesn't have to be your mom's boyfriend, but can you imagine how overjoyed he'd be? Life is short, and sex is fun - so enjoy it!

- Sex Pozzie

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

If you love me, leave me be

I apologize if the tone of this post is unusually harsh. Sometimes it pays to be firm. It is not directed at anyone in particular. Indeed, I could have used this advice myself at another point in my life. Alas, it is inevitable that, as an erotic model, in the course of advertising a sexually desirable image for myself, some people may misunderstand my boundaries. For the purpose of clearing up that confusion, I think this post may be educational. I am an erotic artist, not an escort. I am sexually open, but not a swinger.

So you want to interact with me sexually on a more personal level? Ask yourself one question: what am I (not you, me) getting out of it? I'm not a prostitute, but if I were, I'd at least be getting money in return for my time. I'm not going to give it out for free. If I'm attracted to you, that may be enough - but for that, you have to be 1) a girl, 2) attractive to me (which is hard to tell unless you have pictures I can look at), and 3) have a personality/interests that are compatible with mine.

Chances are slim that that's the case, but if you think you have a shot, feel free to send me your picture (if you're a girl), but don't be too upset if I don't respond - I have particular tastes. Otherwise, there has to be something else I'm getting out of the exchange, and I'm not looking for sexual arousal at the hands of someone I'm not attracted to.

I might be interested in learning people's sexual fantasies for the sake of academic research (I'm actually interested in that sort of thing - what turns people on, even when it's not the same thing that turns me on), but from an intellectual perspective, and not necessarily a sexually arousing perspective. Viewed in that light, I might be interested to hear your thoughts and feelings as they relate to my image as a sex object. But you can save yourself a lot of disappointment, especially if you're a guy, by not expecting (or even hoping) that I'm going to be sexually interested in you the way you're sexually interested in me.

The fact that I post sexy pictures and I don't mind you looking at them doesn't change that fact. I'm an erotic model because I enjoy the craft of erotic photography, and also because exhibiting myself sexually turns me on. But that doesn't mean that I also enjoy interacting one-on-one in a give-and-take capacity with most strangers sexually.

That having been said, I am always open to making new friendly acquaintances, and to trading insights with other artists and intellectuals. I'm not trying to push anyone away, just confirming what my boundaries of intimacy are - the vocalization of which is probably particularly important for a person in my position, as a semi-public figure of desire. Thank you for understanding.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Picture-Trading Brief

Note: For further discussion of this topic, see this previous post (look for the section marked "Additional Point").

If girls were more enthusiastic about spreading around sexy pictures of themselves on the internet, then by all means, I would defer to their judgment on issues of ownership and consent. As it stands, there is a demand for sexy pictures of girls on the internet, and the market will supply one way or another.

Personally, I do not believe there is any serious risk of harm to most people whose image ends up on the internet in a sexual context - except from those busybodies who make a big deal out of what should be a natural occurrence.

But I don't believe in feeding those busybodies' neuroses by agreeing with them that pictures "exploit" people. I don't believe, either, that sex can only be a private, unrecorded act between two [straight, married, adult, yadda, yadda, yadda] people.

As a result, I don't believe most people are harmed significantly by the passing of their pictures around the internet - especially among people who enjoy those pictures. A lot more harm is caused by prudish bullies than by enthusiastic perverts - that's a fact, regardless of what the media does to vilify "nasty sex criminals".

After all, it's not "think of what the perverts will do when they find your picture!" so much as it is "think of what the prudes will do when they find out those pictures exist" we worry about. So why heap all the abuse on the perverts? It's time we put the prudes in their place, and forced them to take responsibility for the messes they thrill to create.

And as long as the female libido is, on average - whether due to biological or social factors - less interested in visual media than the male's, then I see no conflict of interest in men putting forth most of the effort as a proxy in presenting sexy pictures of girls on the internet.

As long as the girls are being properly compensated, there's no problem; I do not believe that explicit violation of privacy and consent is justified, even in this case, however I do believe it is appropriate to take a conservative stance with regards to accusing men of stealing and "exploitation".

After all, the most a girl has to lose is her modesty, and that is a principle she's better off without. It's our responsibility not to judge her prudishly for losing it. Will you stand up and face that responsibility?

In my opinion, if you're willing to shame girls for their sexuality, then you should be barred from enjoying any part of that sexuality. It's only fair.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Gender Stereotypes

I dislike gender stereotypes because I do not fit them, and I resent being judged under them. But if it is true that I am gender alternative, then maybe it is also true that the stereotypes are more or less accurate for the majority of people. In which case, I do not want to identify as male because I do not conform to stereotypical 'maleness' (and less to do with anything biological).

I find it frustrating that a person is expected to be male (which means to act like a male) simply because he was born with a penis, and ridiculed if he acts any other way. It's not just about what sexual organ you have, or even what gender you think your mind is - it's about whether you conform to a stereotypical behavior pattern.

And while nobody (or at least, almost nobody) fits the stereotype to a 'T', for a lot of people, it may be, as I said, a more or less accurate description, one that they may not altogether object to having. How many guys (and girls) do you know who have no problem fitting in to 'guy culture' (or girls into 'girl culture'), and take jokes about stereotypes with either a self-effacing or enthusiastic nod?

I don't mind, entirely, that there are people like 'guys' and people like 'girls' in the world (actually, I'm quite partial to girls), I just wish that there weren't just these two boxes that everybody has to fit into - one, or the other - and it bothers me that it's not even an individual's choice which box to fit into so much as something that's decided arbitrarily by whether you're hiding (because god knows you can't show it off in public) a penis or a vagina in your pants.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Judging by Appearances

People make all kinds of judgments based on appearances. They see a man wearing a dress and they think he's gay. What does liking to wear pretty clothing have to do with having a sexual preference for men? Our gender expectations must be really worn in if we think so simply as this: girls like girly things, but like to have sex with guys. If a guy likes girly things, then he's trying to be a girl, and therefore likes to have sex with guys.

Ironically, by calling this man out as a homosexual, they are simultaneously denying the existence of homosexuality - in women, namely, that a girl could like girly things and like to have sex with girls, not guys (see separating sex, gender, and orientation). But I guess, if you're so entrenched in your gender norms, then you must believe that homosexuality works like this: gays like feminine men and lesbians like masculine women. See, in this mindset, even homosexuality conforms to the heteronormative standard of coupling - that one person has to be the man and one person has to be the woman, and that for two people to be sexually attracted to each other, they must be of opposite gender, no matter what sex they are.

Or something like that? What's with all the assumptions? Why must we assume that things happen a certain way? Because we see one path being chosen the majority of times? We assume that's 'just the way things are', and that everything else is "queer" and odd, and even then, the only way to understand them is to rearrange them in terms of the system we're familiar with? Where is there room for tolerance and diversity in this framework? You can't have tolerance and diversity without a fundamental respect for nonconformity, which is the opposite of conservatism.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Obscenity, or Sexual Speech

I don't know what's more offensive about the concept of obscenity - the idea that a form of speech could be beyond first amendment protection because it's offensive (isn't that the point of first amendment protection?), or how totally subjective the test for obscenity is.

A picture like this one above, is probably not offensive enough for anyone to seriously call it obscenity (at least by legal standards - and I should hope not), but the fact remains, that sexual speech is specifically marked out for consideration of obscenity (if that doesn't reflect moral values - something the government is not supposed to cater to - I don't know what does), and it is, by definition, a matter of opinion whether a certain instance of speech is defensible or not.

You may say that the majority rules, and that may be a valid argument in the case of open, public display, but what private individuals pass willingly between themselves is not a situation that warrants government intervention.

Now, if there were such a thing as violent obscenity - where lawmakers went out tracking down explicitly violent materials that were "patently offensive" and lacking in socially redeeming value and all that, at least things would make slightly more sense. But we glorify violence in this culture, while simultaneously treating sex like a cancer on society.

What business of it is yours if somebody is deriving pleasure privately in a way that offends you? Is that really a good reason to throw a person in jail?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Costume Holidays

I've learned to appreciate the fun of dress-up. Not just in fancy clothes (although that can be nice on occasion), but in costumes. Costume play - or as the Japanese like to abbreviate it, "cosplay" - allows one to dress up in extravagant ways that regular daily life rarely calls for, and for the imaginatively inclined, allows one to don an alternate, sometimes even fantasy, persona. Personally, I don't go in for the role play much, but I like the aesthetics of costume dress, and, for me personally, I enjoy the opportunity to become the fantasy I dream about being - that is, to become a sexy girl, who can put on skimpy, feminine costumes and be admired, instead of ridiculed.

In any case, costume play serves a variety of interests, and above all, is just plain fun. So last Halloween, I was thinking about the complaints some people make about turning the holiday into an excuse to dress like sluts, instead of the spooky, imaginative holiday it's "supposed" to be, and that eventually drew me to the conclusion that we could stand to use more costumed holidays than just Halloween. And just now I was thinking more about the different kinds of costume holidays we could have (which I only briefly considered before). Here's what I've come up with - there could be at least four without significant overlap (provided people follow each day's main theme).

1. Career Day

This one doesn't sound like much fun, I know. But better than "bring-your-kid-to-work day", and better than "bring-your-parent-to-class day", this could be a day where kids dress up in the outfit associated with whatever it is they want to be when they grow up (fireman, astronaut, doctor, policeman, etc.), and could be a great catalyst for some excellent recess imagination play! Adults, meanwhile, could either attend parties in their work clothes (I know, that doesn't sound very exciting) - or better yet, dress up as something they'd like to be but never had a chance to try, (like, "I always wanted to be a rock star"), or as the hobby they either engage in on the side, or have always wanted to start up (photography, stamp collecting, racecar driving, etc.). Not only would this holiday encourage kids to think about their futures, it could also encourage adults to think about pursuing whatever it is that will make them happy, whether that includes switching careers or finally taking up that hobby.

2. Imagination Day

You could also call this one Fantasy Day or Make-Believe Day. This one's all about the imagination. If there's something you've always wanted to be - something unrealistic, that maybe doesn't even exist in the real world, this is your day to pretend. Be it fantasy-related (knights, princesses, dragons) or sci-fi (aliens, robots, Jedis), realistic (pirates, ninjas, dinosaurs) or make-believe (unicorns, faeries, bigfoot). Or any animal you can think of that you've always wanted to be! I imagine this holiday would be geared more toward the kiddies (and no harm in that), but there's no reason adults who haven't given up their imagination can't join in, too. [On the other hand, I could see the adults turning this one into a sexual holiday too - call it Roleplay Day ("oh, my knight in shining armor, save me from this beastly dragon!"). Maybe we should make that another holiday, just for the adults, to preempt their hijacking of this one, or, in the spirit of sharing, we could just let it be both at once - imagination for the kids, and roleplay for the adults. I don't see why not.]

3. Spirit Day

This one is basically Halloween. The idea is to dress up like things that are scary - ghosts, zombies, witches, skeletons, mummies, werewolves, and the list goes on. Traditional Halloween stuff. This one can be fun for kids and adults alike. Since much has been said about Halloween already - being that it's a real holiday - I don't have much to add. This one's 'true spirit' is preserved by the creation of the other costume holidays.

4. Slut Day

And this is the one that attempts to siphon the unintended sluttiness from the others. People love to dress like sluts - let's be honest. If they had a dedicated day for it, maybe they'd be less inclined to hijack other holidays. Maybe. In any case, I think Slut Day sounds like a totally fun holiday. It would be held on the first Saturday in August, so the temperature is warm enough for skimpy outfits, and so people can't complain about not dressing sluttily because of work or school. Plus Saturday night is a great night for parties. So on Slut Day, you could dress up in the sluttiest outfit you own, or, alternatively, you could get a slutty costume, which would basically consist of ultra-slutty versions of the costumes you might wear on any other costume holiday - slutty fireman, slutty nurse, slutty princess, slutty pirate, slutty zombie, slutty witch, or your perennial classic, slutty slut. Whatever the case may be, it's a formula for lots of good, sexy fun times. :-D

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Photographer as Villain

I got a book celebrating the great LIFE photographers for this past holiday, and I was looking through it with the hope of learning something about photography and improving my own craft. Here are some thoughts skimming the surface of my mind.

Two things I notice in this book of LIFE photographs. First, that a lot of these photographs are compositionally pretty dull. Not all, certainly, and probably not even most, but quite a few. If I shot a roll of film (well, I shoot digital, but still), and some of these shots came out, I'd pass them over for duds. Now, generally, I don't think that's a result of me not "seeing" the shot (although I'll allow for the possibility here and there), but the result of the fact that a compositionally-dull shot can be very captivating if it captures a particularly interesting subject, or manages to tell an interesting story. Indeed, a lot of these LIFE photographers, the ones who are more the 'photojournalist' or 'street photography' types, will say outright that they are not 'artists'.

Take, for example, one picture of Judy Garland on stage. It's not a particularly good picture, if you ask me; it doesn't even flatter the subject very well. Now, you could say that the fact that it's a 'dull' picture speaks volumes about the normality of people who are celebrities, or because it speaks to the public's interest in seeing celebrities depicted in a less than perfect context, or because it symbolizes in some way the troubles or vices a celebrity may be going through. You could say any one of these things, and they each could legitimately bring interest to the picture, but at the end of the day, visually and artistically it's not that interesting a picture.

I'm not trying to disparage these photographers and say they aren't very good - I'm just pointing out the observations I'm making about the different styles of photography, and my discovery of the different sorts of things that can make a picture interesting other than good composition, or simply an appealing subject. For example, a picture of a celebrity will be interesting to people the way the exact same picture of a non-celebrity wouldn't. At the same time, non-celebrities (even if they're not particularly attractive, or especially when they're particularly unattractive) can appealingly represent 'the salt of the earth' if depicted in a way that tells the viewer of the photograph something.

The other thing I've noticed is that photography is a very intrusive medium (in a way that is about as far off from being 'a fly on the wall' as you can be - even to the point of war photographers too frequently becoming casualties), with a very obvious and also unashamedly voyeuristic element. People complain about photography all the time because it's obtrusive of their privacy in a voyeuristic fashion. But that's where good photographs come from - capturing people being themselves, doing what they do - and you have to get in there, as the photographer, to get those pictures. And anyway, people love engaging in voyeurism - as long as it's not their own lives that are being peeked into. But in most cases, I think, the fear of being 'exposed' in a photograph is vastly overrated (unless, maybe, you're committing a crime or something, but even then...).

So anyway, my conclusion is that photographers may be seen, in a sense, as a type of villain, invading people's privacy. But then, people love photography, so their product is celebrated in the end. I don't want to say that the ends justify the means, and certainly a photographer should not seek to step over the bounds, instead preferring to work - where applicable - with trusted friends and people who are not particularly averse to photography. Again, where applicable. But if we're too cautious, we'll be sacrificing the sort of opportunities that make photography so compelling. And in the end, I suppose it's inevitable that photographers will continue to be seen as villains in a certain context, by some people, and that if I want to be a good photographer, I have to accept that. That's one of the things I'm struggling to come to terms with. I just hate to resign myself to a label like 'villain'...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I Support Nude Raider

The makers of Tomb Raider hold a very clear stance against Nude Raider. This would not be my decision if I were the head of the company, but it is not at all surprising. Although Lara Croft was intentionally designed as a character with unambiguous sex appeal, the game is not at all about sex (it's about exploring ancient tombs). Given the taboo around entertainment of a sexual variety, Tomb Raider's stance on Nude Raider is not surprising. But it is disappointing.

I can say with 100% honesty, that when the original Tomb Raider first came out (I was twelve at the time), it was not primarily Lara Croft's sex appeal, but the excitement of the exploration and adventure element of the game that drew me to it. But, on the other hand, I would be lying if I told you I didn't consider it icing on the cake that the game featured a hot female protagonist, instead of another boring macho action hero.

Now, if it were up to me, I would abolish the taboo on sex. It seems more than a little odd that we get uptight about the thought that young people might play games with sexual themes, let alone actual nudity, but we don't bat an eye when those games instead feature copious amounts of violence. In Tomb Raider's case, there's more adventure than action, and not a total lack of sexual innuendo besides, but it's not the dual pistols Lara wields with aplomb that gets people's knickers in a twist.

Nevertheless, though I don't understand why people consider sex to be more controversial than violence, I understand that people do, and so the official stance on Nude Raider is not surprising. But what irks me even more, is when I come across a significant Tomb Raider fan community that is involved in creating unique mods for the later, more advanced, games (with specific attention to new outfits), and I find that they too make a clear statement criticizing Nude Raider - that they'll have nothing to do with it. Which I find to be an unnecessarily prudish view, that they should be ashamed of holding. Where is an enterprising erotic artist supposed to turn?

Now one thing that's always had me curious about the official stance against Nude Raider, is the immediate assumption that Nude Raider = Lewd Raider. Obviously, I can't deny that many people will view an attractive female in the nude (even a polygonal one) as a sexually arousing stimulus. At the same time, I can assure you that plenty of people already view Lara Croft - even fully dressed - in the same way. So what we're saying here when we condemn Nude Raider is that nudity = sex.

And it's impossible for me not to bring up the nudist perspective at this point. Now think about this. A lot of people who are curious about Nude Raider are probably just interested in seeing the character naked, whether for titillation or just to satisfy their curiosity. But, as Rule 34 dictates, there is plenty of opportunity for that on the internet (no matter how much effort the suits behind Tomb Raider expend on sending out cease and desist letters to "prevent young people from googling 'Tomb Raider' and landing on porn" - on the contrary, young teenage me was drawing my own versions of naked Lara Croft thanks to the easily traceable cardboard cutout that came in the box with the second game, no internet required - how, exactly, would it have harmed me to see similar images on a webpage, pray tell?).

Now, obviously, there may be some benefit to seeing the hypothetical nude Lara in motion, but imagine you get the nude code working (in whatever form it may exist). Now you're playing Tomb Raider and Lara's nude. There's still no sex in the game. If you're looking for some excitement, you might as well put on some porn instead. So is there any actual benefit to playing 'Nude Raider' beyond the sheer novelty of it?

Well, I have one answer to that question. More so than the sexual element, I have always been intrigued by the idea of Nude Raider because - as a nudist, and as the sort of exhibitionist who appreciates the fantasy of being naked in public and other unusual places, not to shock people or behave in a lewd manner, but just simply for the excitement of being nude where one does not usually go nude - I am simply thrilled by the idea of playing a game where I can investigate ancient tombs in the nude. I imagine it's very similar to the feeling one gets who feels compelled to go hiking au naturale, which might seem odd to the typical textile, but is not at all uncommon among nudists.

So, I raise the argument, if nudity is not necessarily sexual in nature, on what grounds do you feel justified in criticizing Nude Raider for its sexual context, when it may have nonsexual value as well? In a modding community that thrives on creating diverse and impressive outfits for Lara - some of them, even, sexual in nature, like bikinis and lingerie - where do you get off saying that of all possible outfits, the naked human body is out of bounds for a creator to design? It seems terribly arbitrary, and terribly discriminating. And yet, unfortunately, it's not at all out of character for this society.

Well, I'm saying this whole cultural fear of the naked human body is ridiculous. And by playing Nude Raider, I'm not trying to give the creative minds behind Tomb Raider the middle finger - after all, I love them for the brilliant (if sometimes flawed) games they've created. But I am making a statement about how playing this game with a naked Lara Croft is NOT a big deal, and that I do NOT respect those same creative minds' wish for fans not to use the game in that way. I bought your game fair, square and legit, and as far as I can tell, you have no problem with the modding community as long as they're not violating your copyrights or what have you, and I am NOT going to sit here and let you tell me (in the privacy of my own home entertainment theater, if nowhere else) that in this case as all others, nudity lies outside the realm of free speech.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Regarding Puberty & The Age Of Consent

or Society vs. Biology
(or, as some would insist, Civilization vs. Animal Nature)

Here is a little food for thought. If a law were passed tomorrow raising the age of consent to 25, you wouldn't suddenly stop being attracted to 20 year olds. Maybe after a few generations, people would start associating their feelings of attraction to women who look "under 25" with perversion and immorality, but it wouldn't change our basic biology.

The moment a girl hits puberty (which comes, on average, before the age of 13), she begins taking on changes that render her sexually appealing to males of all post-pubertal ages (and many pre-pubertal ones, if we let experience be our teacher). We have laws (that may be either sexist or unjustified - take your pick) that prevent older men from "taking advantage" of young girls, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with recognizing the basic fact that women under the age of 18 can possess appealing sexual characteristics.

And though I'm willing to believe there are some men who are genuinely turned off by young women who still possess some childlike qualities (physically or psychologically), there is no biological reason a man should have to wait until a girl is 100% fully matured in order to start taking an interest in her (which is not the same thing, necessarily, as sex on the first date). Pursuing her as a sexual partner may be against the law (although that varies greatly by local culture), but there is no shame in recognizing the existence of those feelings - it's all part of the glory of God's creation.

On a related subject, it frustrates me to observe people stigmatizing men's sexual attraction to teenage girls by conflating it with "pedophilia" - a gambit so obviously hinging on a logical fallacy that it's amazing how effective it manages to be (but not so surprising given how young adults are treated like children). The issue is so sensitive, it seems that if somebody calls you a pedophile nonsensically, for something arbitrary and totally unrelated to pedophilia, you'd nonetheless be in no position to argue, because you just don't argue when it comes to pedophilia - that could too easily be construed as sympathy. (I await the day that "pedo" becomes the new all-purpose slur that "gay" has already become - "broccoli for breakfast? Ew, that's so pedo, mom...").

But quite unlike pedophilia - which may reasonably be considered abnormal under the procreative model of sexual activity - men are evolutionarily adapted to be sexually attracted to post-pubertal teens - who, unlike actual children (not the same thing as "legal" children), are physically developed for sex. This is not pathological perversion, it is the nature of the average male. We can discuss what - if any - behaviors are appropriate for an older man to engage in with a teen, but even - or especially - in this (supposed) age of enlightened civility, it is not acceptable to call a man either pathetic or disgusting for expressing his attraction to beautiful, sexy teens.

And that's another truth about beauty.