Sunday, June 29, 2014

Blurred Lines

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

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

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

Art

Porn?

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

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

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

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

Does this even technically count as "explicit"?

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

A subject engaged in sexual intercourse (really!).

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

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Gender Scale

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Spending a Day at a Nudist Resort

So you've decided to spend a day at a nudist resort? Here's what you might be able to expect. Keep in mind that my experience is limited to only a couple resorts in an isolated section of the United States, but I think some generalizations can be made. Certainly, one of the biggest differences between resorts will be the location, and I can't speak for how similar or different resorts are in other countries. Also, beaches may operate a bit differently than private resorts, possibly having more freedom and less of a "club membership" sort of atmosphere (I don't know, I haven't yet had the opportunity to visit one).

Unfortunately, those that participate in social nudism still constitute a minority of the population, and the understanding and acceptance of nudist practices by the public at large is spotty at best. So, private resorts where nudists can gather and practice their preferred lifestyle without interruption tend to be few and far between, although they are scattered liberally across the country (try AANR's club locator to find one near you). Unless you are lucky to be living very close to one such club, you will likely find that you have to head out on the road to reach the nearest designated clothing optional resort.

As you approach the resort - being located in a remote, out-of-the-way place, in the interest of privacy - you will likely find that the last leg of the journey constitutes a long and winding country road through what appears to be undisturbed wilderness. It is perfectly natural for some nervousness to settle in at this point - I've been going to nudist resorts for five seasons now and I still get that feeling sometimes. The resort will be clearly marked, although it may not be evident from the outside that it is, in fact, a clothing optional facility. There will be a tall fence around the property (or other privacy measures in place), and a gate to control access. At some times, and on some days, this gate may be open in anticipation of visitors. On other days, you may need to utilize the call box to announce your arrival, and ensure that there is someone in the gatehouse or office to receive you.

At the office, you will be met by a friendly proprietor (or volunteering member) of the resort, who may or may not be clothed. Either way, he or she will not have a supermodel-rate body. If you do not have a lot of experience in social nudism, this may understandably be a jarring sight; but once you get your own clothes off (which usually may occur at any point of your convenience, after you've entered the property), and are surrounded by naked people who are not all fashion models, you are bound to become accustomed to such sights remarkably quickly. At the office, you will be expected to check in (with positive ID), pay whatever fees are required for the time you'll be spending at the resort, and (especially if this is your first visit to this particular resort) sign a form acknowledging that you understand the rules of the resort.

Among these rules will be a blanket prohibition of cameras (often including the use of cell phones outside of designated areas), restrictions on any kind of overt sexual behaviors, a warning about engaging in any sort of inappropriate conduct with children (especially children that are not your own), and a reminder to use a towel when sitting on shared community resources (for hygiene and simple politeness). Penalties range from a friendly reprimand to being banned from the resort, to the involvement of law enforcement, depending on the severity of the infraction (as common sense dictates). You may feel that these rules are a little strict (personally, I think nudists are too uptight about photography, though I understand their reasons), but they are merely designed to keep the resort in business and its visitors safe, and to maintain a family-friendly (i.e. non-sexual) atmosphere.

Aside from these specific social taboos, and with the exception of the outsider who may not have internalized the nudist ethos yet, nudist resorts tend to foster an exceptionally friendly and laid-back atmosphere. People are there to relax and enjoy the good life. You'll find that nudists are notoriously friendly to one another. I've lived in the suburbs, in the city, on a college campus - and nowhere outside of a nudist resort is the friendly wave and greeting of two strangers more ubiquitous. This is keeping in line with the "social" part of social nudism, and though introverts like myself might find it a little awkward, it ultimately reinforces the welcoming and accepting attitude of the community.

After you have been checked in, you may be given a tour of the grounds if this is your first visit. Either way, you will eventually make your way to the campgrounds to pick out your campsite (or to find the campsite that's been designated for you). Often times there will be a common area close to the central action of the resort, as well as a more distant (and larger) campground for people who like a little more quiet and privacy. My experience has been exclusively with tent camping, but trailers and RVs are very popular, and some resorts have lodge rooms or condos for rent (you may have to call ahead for reservations). In spite of this, and the tourist-friendly label "resort", I've found that nudist clubs are more accurately described as nudist camps, albeit with a number of amenities. But your experience may vary.

At this point, you may be wanting to familiarize yourself with the nearest bathhouse. Contrary to what you may be thinking, it's more of a public restroom than a Roman spa, but with curtains instead of doors in front of the stalls - probably owing to nudists' general openness regarding the body. If this concerns you, rest assured - I am very shy about these sorts of things, and this type of environment has actually helped me a lot to get over my anxieties. Outside the building will be installed a row of communal showers for all to use - male and female, the young and the old - without dividers or privacy screens. If you're new to the nudist lifestyle, you might find showering out in the open, with complete strangers, to be unusual, but it's a valued part of the nudist experience. You might just find yourself making a new friend one day in a conversation while washing up. Those who want more privacy, however, will usually be able to find more secluded stalls inside the bathhouses.

So, you've set up camp, and you're ready to explore the resort! If you're lucky, and the weather's nice, you're bound to see lots of nude people engaged in sports and recreation, many of which will have dark all-over tans, showing their dedication to the lifestyle. But you can't always count on the weather, and if it's cooler, it's not unusual to see people in robes, or t-shirts (the infamous "shirtcock", as goofy as it looks, is well represented among nudists who are more concerned with practicality than vanity), or wraps, or other forms and combinations of full or partial clothing. Volleyball is the official sport of nudists; if you have the opportunity, you should give it a try! Nothing is more fun than sweating out in the sun with nothing but your sunscreen on - and do remember to put on sunscreen, or else you'll be red and tender by the next morning.

Nudist resort activity - on warm, sunny days - will be expectedly centered around the pool. Many people will be laid out in the sun, tanning, and others will periodically take a dip in the pool. Note that even where clothing is optional elsewhere in the resort, nudity is usually required in the pool area. That means absolutely no swimsuits! But what would you need a swimsuit for, anyway? Also remember to wash up in the shower (there'll usually be some located right next to the pool) before hopping in the pool or the hot tub, to keep it clean and easier for the owners to maintain. Kids will be drawn to the water for the excitement and recreation it promises - they tend to be far more active than the adults, who more typically like to wade around and chat with one another; the pool is a great place to pick up gossip!

The resort may have a snack bar or restaurant where you can buy food. There may be any number of other amenities that are specific to the particular resort, including libraries, clubhouses, activity rooms (sometimes designed specifically either for children or adults), and various recreational facilities, such as tennis courts, basketball courts, and what have you. Massages and body painting are also popular nudist pastimes, but I have yet to try either one. Most resorts make an effort to keep their guests entertained on weekend evenings during the summer. They may have live bands scheduled to perform, or DJs ready to spin discs while people let loose on the dance floor - some dressed up for the occasion, many others still nude. There may be potlucks or raffles or other festivities. Drinking is popular, and loud music may play until late on Saturday nights.

When you're all partied out, you'll probably make your way back to your campsite to get some rest. And in the morning, you can get up and do it all again - until it's time for you to leave. The resort tends to get a little empty on the last day of the weekend, as people shuffle out to return to their everyday lives. Exit from the nudist resort is usually much more streamlined than entrance - chances are that once you have your stuff all packed up and ready, you can simply drive out. If you experience a little sadness due to vacation withdrawal - do not be alarmed, this is completely normal. If you've enjoyed your stay, chances are you'll find yourself wanting to repeat the experience sometime soon. Congratulations, you are now a social nudist! Welcome to the club. :-)

Friday, June 20, 2014

My Life in Nudism (Part 2)

My Life in Nudism (Part 2) - Social Nudism

(Continued from here)

About a year after graduating from college, I finally found myself in a unique position, given my shared living arrangements, to have the house all to myself for at least one full 24 hour period. Shortly before, my curiosity about nudism had been piqued by a happenstance comment I had overheard during a social gathering. These were not serious nudists (to my knowledge), but they joked about nudism as a way of expressing their generally liberal approach to society's textile mandates. I had heard of nudism previously, but I had never really given it much thought, and I had honestly never associated nudism with the secret naked experiences I had had. But I did a little research about the lifestyle online, and I became intrigued.

The day of my domestic freedom came, and I decided that I would use the opportunity of not having to go out of the house, and having noone inside the house to interact with all day long, to try out the experience of being naked for a full 24 hours straight. From the time I climbed out of bed that day (having slept nude the previous night), until crawling into bed that night (and then sleeping nude again), I wore not a stitch of clothing, or other kind of covering. It was like one of my younger nude experiences but on overdrive. I didn't have to sneak around. I didn't have to strip my clothes off and quickly put them back on, depending on surrounding conditions and the fear of getting caught. And I could go about my normal, everyday tasks - including, in particular, sitting down to dinner - and wander all about the house, all while being nude!

That must have been the turning point, because after that, I was hooked. My opportunities to practice nudism were few, as I was still keeping it a secret from others, since it is often viewed as an abnormality, and non-nudists frequently complain about other people going nude around them. But especially during the night, and sometimes even outdoors after dark, I would take advantage of the opportunity to practice at-home nudism a little bit at a time. The following winter, I started a blog to write about my unconventional life, and, having mulled it over in my own head, I announced my interest in nudism to my inner circle of friends. It felt great to be able to explain myself and actually admit to the experiences I was having.

As a result, I became even more enthusiastic about my new dedication to nudism. My primary New Years Resolution for the year of 2008 was to make an effort to spend more time in the nude. That was also the year I did my Daily Nudes project, which ignited my passion for nude photography, and was at least in part a documentation of my experiences spending time nude around the house and in the yard at night - and occasionally down the street and in nearby parks in broad daylight! I could tell you myriad stories about my experiences in those days, and in the ensuing years, but I don't have the time right now, and anyway a lot of those stories have been told already on this blog or elsewhere (especially my Flickr account, where those photos were originally uploaded). Suffice to say, my nudist experience grew in leaps and bounds, but it wasn't until two years later that I tried social nudism for the first time.

It was largely thanks to meeting a kindred spirit who, although not being a nudist herself, was free-thinking and open-minded enough to try it out with me. You see, I was much too nervous to go and visit a nudist resort by myself. But with her by my side, we dove into the magical world of social nudism! I'd be more upfront about the specific place I visit, but a certain amount of discretion is appreciated in these sorts of matters, and anyway I have a considerable amount of internet followers who know me as much for my erotic art as my dedication to nudism, and I wouldn't want to burden said resort with attention from people whose zealous desire to see me (or others) naked in person may not jibe with the nudist ethos.

Now, I'm not a very social person to begin with - which, incidentally, is why, although social nudism is a very different environment than solo home nudism, and one with checks and balances in place to keep the sexual element at bay, I don't think it's fair to say that home nudists are not "true" nudists - but I very much appreciate the opportunity to go somewhere where I can be freely nude without fear of getting caught or how people will react, to engage in recreation and other activities indoors and out, with other people who have the same beliefs about nudity as I do (more or less). You don't know how important that is, in a world where most people think you're bizarre for being a nudist, and where something as simple and innocuous as taking a stroll around the block could potentially lead to an uncomfortable conversation with a police officer.

So, despite the time and money required to repair away to a secret nudist resort every so often just to practice my preferred lifestyle, I've been going back every summer since then - making this the fifth(!) summer I've participated in social nudism. I even stayed a whole week there two summers ago, expanding my record for consecutive days spent entirely nude from one all the way up to eight! People recognize me there now, and their passion for volleyball has totally rubbed off on me. The reason I'm reminiscing now is because I've made plans to visit a different nudist resort that I've never been to before. Since I've only ever been to one, it should be interesting to compare and contrast, and see how much different - or how much the same - this other resort is. I can't wait to find out!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

My Life in Nudism (Part 1)

My Life in Nudism (Part 1) - Youthful Explorations

Nudity plays a part in every person's life - even if that part is the conventional regimen of changing clothes, bathing, and having sex. There are other activities - like sleeping nude, or skinny dipping with friends - that may be less common, but are still not altogether out of the ordinary. Children, in particular - and especially at young ages - are notoriously comfortable with nudity, and lend evidence to the view that humans are natural born nudists, and must be taught modesty and body shame to become the textiles most people beyond the age of young childhood are. And taught these things they most certainly are. Even into adulthood, society exerts a lot of pressure to conform to the textile ideals.

So it is that most nudists who were not raised in a nudist environment come to the lifestyle at some point (frequently later in life) after which they've overcome their textile indoctrination and rediscovered the natural pleasures of going nude. Where this impetus to revert to a nudist outlook comes from will depend on the person. Some are encouraged by friends, family, and acquaintances, and upon trying it, decide that they like the lifestyle. Others - and these are often the most fervent nudists - have some inward impulse that drives them to be naked more than the average person, usually because they enjoy it in a distinctly strong manner.

The latter resembles my case. I was unfortunately not raised as a nudist, but I can remember having a special attitude towards being nude that goes all the way back to my childhood. Back then, there were isolated incidents where I would strip off for the mere thrill of it - and this is perhaps not uncommon behavior for children in general. But these were usually private, fleeting moments, tempered with the realization that what I was doing was taboo, and that I must not get caught. I can remember two such incidents with some clarity: one involved jumping on the bed, and the other involved exposing myself outdoors - not to any person, but to the trees and the open air.

These secret "rendezvous" with the unclad life continued into adolescence, although at that point they took on a decidedly more sexual context. I can't say for certain why this is, but if you combine the taboo of nudity - in the absence of any positively nudist role model - with the sensual feeling of being naked, it doesn't seem so far-fetched. There were times when I would sneak out of the house after dark, and strip off all my clothes and wander through the bushes. There was no overt sexual element involved - these experiences occurred years before I discovered that the genitals could be manipulated to orgasm via masturbation - but they were almost certainly accompanied by a feeling of sexual excitement. This was obvious to me in at least one particular incident that I remember well, which occurred most likely during my middle teens, in which I recorded a video of myself (that I promptly deleted, for fear of getting caught) frolicking about my room naked.

Naive though I was, I look back on those experiences of my adolescence fondly, for they were filled with the novelty of new adventure, and the excitement of discovery. It's no mystery to me, the appeal of the "sexual awakening" story, which has a long-standing literary tradition in the form of "coming of age" tales. I only lament that it's treated as something of a taboo to indulge in, in this day and age. People talk about the dangers of experienced adults (never mind the adolescents' more experienced peers) "interfering" with "natural" adolescent development (if you think silence, shame and taboo are part of the "natural" course), but I can tell you this: I would have been in no way inconvenienced if I had not been preemptively shamed into deleting that video, so that others could view it now and share vicariously in the excitement of my youthful explorations.

I didn't even contextualize my experiences at that time as having anything to do with S-E-X. I was blissfully ignorant of the doom-and-gloom agenda of pro-abstinence sexual conditioning (I refuse to call it "education"), which would soon mold and distort my experiences of human sexuality - which, much like the nudity taboo, was an obstacle I would have to overcome in the ensuing years, on my path to a more enlightened state of being. On the other hand, I finally discovered masturbation, and began experimenting with relationships, although my sexual progress was stunted by the aforementioned conditioning.

At that point, I think that my secret nude experiences took a backseat to my new overt sexual experiences (now including browsing images on the internet!), but they never went away completely, and my feelings toward nudity never changed. I do recall at least one instance during high school, while sleeping over at my girlfriend's house, that I slipped out into the yard in the middle of the night, just to wander around a bit without clothes on. When I went away to college, my opportunities for such expeditions were reduced, what with the crowded living spaces and my focus on coursework. My exhibitionist tendencies were similarly siphoned off with my burgeoning interest in self-portrait photography (although that wouldn't flare up into a serious hobby until several years later). It was only after I graduated from college that the world of nudism opened up to me.

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Nude Life Model


This was a spontaneous idea that arose during a photoshoot the other day. The dominating thought in my head at the time was how ridiculous it seems to me that anyone could object to the treatment of the naked human body as a subject for art. Obviously not all bodies are built the same, and some are more "polished" than others, but certainly the physical ideal exists as an object of beauty to be admired. The Greeks understood that. And there is an unbroken strain of the fine art world that continues to believe that, in spite of those who may oppose it. When I look at an attractive body unclothed, I can't imagine how anyone could possibly fail to see the beauty in it.

I can't ignore the fact that there is a subjective element involved in the aesthetic appreciation of art, and particularly other people's bodies. But at the same time, it baffles me that anyone could fail to acknowledge that some bodies are, indeed, beautiful - or, at the very least, aesthetically interesting enough to be the subject of an artistic exploration. If you were, for example, to observe a nude life model with an appealing physique both in and out of his clothing - while he may still be appealing in his clothing, and it may be possible to take an interesting portrait of him that way - I can't get into the mindset of the person who would say "leave the clothes on."

A man is not the clothes he wears.

I mean, seriously, who but an enemy of Beauty would require such a thing to be covered up and censored and hidden from the view of others? Why are people offended and frightened by beauty? How insidious is the culturally-ingrained but largely religiously-motivated indoctrination of innocents to make them believe that bodies cannot be beautiful, or if they can, that indulging in the appreciation of that beauty is some kind of sin or vice? There has to be a puritanical element to it - that any enjoyment in life is poison, and that any earthly indulgence of the bodily pleasures is a stain on the divinity of your immortal soul. That all such pleasures in life are a temptation conjured by the Devil to lure you away from God. Again, I ask - how insidious is that?

And as much as the religious themes are interwoven into these attitudes (sometimes subconsciously), much of it relates to a very negative approach towards sexuality and the body in general. People are so uptight about sex, that their attitudes extend to treatments of nudity as well. Noone is allowed to see your naked body except the one (and only) person you're having sexual relations with. Viewing other people's naked bodies is a temptation of the flesh, designed to incite libidinal feelings. A person who shows off their naked body to others outside of a committed sexual relationship is bizarre, and has twisted morals, and is probably sexually promiscuous. An artist who deems the appreciation of naked beauty a higher virtue than his own sexual purity (and the sexual purity of the communities he "inflicts" his art upon), is a deviant, a moral outcast, and quite possibly a dangerous predator. Forget how the artist is treated who believes that actual sex can be beautiful, too...


Well, I'm sorry to say that these attitudes seem to be disturbingly prevalent, even among those who wouldn't normally consider themselves to be either particularly religiously devout, or even sexually prudish (there is a cultural acceptance, especially among males, for a certain level of sexual license, provided it follows an approved course, and is accompanied by participation in the shaming of anyone who deviates from that course). But I don't believe in them. And frankly, I think that their error is obvious, when one looks at the true nature of the world around. I challenge you to look at a beautiful body unclad (and it doesn't have to be a particular one, but the one that would most appeal to you) and claim - not just to me, but to yourself, in your own heart - that it is vulgar, and not beautiful. And if you can do that, then you and I are at a fundamental disagreement, and I would appreciate it if you refrained from trying to mold my views and regulate my lifestyle so that it more closely resembles your own.

Monday, June 16, 2014

QR Code Censor


I've always thought QR codes were fascinating, but I only recently got myself a smartphone, and downloaded a code scanning app, so for a long time they were this neat thing that I had heard about, and occasionally seen, but never actually tried out before. But I did have this brilliant idea for using QR codes that I'm finally able to test out. I'm not 100% certain what planted the seed of this idea in my head (I won't claim to be the first or only person to think of this, although I'm pretty sure I came up with the idea independently of anyone else), but certainly it's been germinating as a result of my recent experiences on deviantART.



Unlike Flickr (which I had used previously), deviantART doesn't allow explicit sexual content. So, there's been a number of times when I've had to withhold certain images from sharing, most of the time due to the appearance of an erection, and in some cases I've had to post one version of an image and merely allude to the existence of a more explicit version - which inevitably whets the appetite of a certain subsection of my watchers/fans. So I've been thinking of alternative possible ways to advertise an explicit image without showing what it is the censors don't want people to see.



I've never been fond of censorship of any kind, but lately I've been thinking that QR codes could actually be used in a censorial capacity that I might not mind so much. In place of the typical, destructive black censorship bar, which basically tells you "there's parts of this image that I'm not going to let you see (for whatever reasons)", the QR code (linked to an uncensored version of the image), while covering up the offending portions of the image, isn't so much blocking sight of the censored part as it is actively advertising and providing access to the uncensored image.


Which is great. Usually, with a censored image, if you want the uncensored version, you have to hunt for it, and it can be hard to find. With the QR code as the censor bar, as long as you have a scanner, you can just point your phone at it and voilĂ , the uncensored image shows up! Obviously, the same thing could be accomplished with a simple URL listed after the image, or by providing a "click-through" to get to the uncensored version, but something about making the censor bar itself the link to the thing it's obscuring just tickles me pink. It's interactive, it's fun, and it seems to me like a far more positive approach to censorship.



Rather than the mindset of "there are some things you shouldn't see, and we're protecting you from them", this is more like a "this image is censored because some people are easily offended, but if you want to see the uncensored version, here it is" - plus, in having the censor bar itself be the link to the uncensored image, there's really no way you can separate the censored image from the uncensored version, without actually further modifying the image, because the link to the uncensored version is an intrinsic part of the censored image (and indeed, the censorship itself)!


Just think of the practical applications! You could hide x-rated content in plain sight! Of course, it's quite possible that lawmakers and busybodies would treat such "QR code censorship" as equivalent to providing direct links to pornographic material. I, for one, wouldn't feel entirely comfortable posting a QR code-censored image on my deviantART profile, as I could easily imagine the staff interpreting such a code as equivalent to a hyperlink - which is disallowed. But still, my mind reels with the implications of this technology.


You could print a QR code on a t-shirt and wear it in public. How would that be treated? There's nothing about the code itself that's indecent, but what if it links to a pornographic image? I'm not aware of x-rated hyperlinks (at least ones that don't contain explicit language) being illegal to display in public (although I could be inadequately informed on that point). What if a minor wore a QR code that linked to pornography? Would that be illegal? Even if he'd never visited the link? Would school administrators be within their rights to force him to change? Think of people who get indecent tattoos. A QR code would be totally innocuous, but at the same time a direct link to something potentially pornographic.


I'm sure there has to be a practical application for the QR code censor. It's just too neat to pass up. In demonstration, each of the images on this page - which are some of my more "pornographic" photographs from the last year or so - has offending portions censored by a QR code that links to an uncensored version of the image. If you have a smartphone with a QR scanner (or some other way to scan QR codes), give it a try! (You may have to expand the images to get a good reading).

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Musing


I am conscious of the fact that an awful lot of my pictures are similar - full body shots of me standing (often in or in front of a doorway), dressed in different things - but mostly naked. It's partly my approach to portrait photography, and partly the limitations of the places I have to shoot, but, unless I am unfairly displacing the blame, I think it has mostly to do with the limitations of self-portrait photography. As a photographer, it is unfortunate that I do not have any other models to work with, but as a model, I have often lamented - to myself if not anyone else - the fact that I do not regularly hang out with a photographer.

You can look at it either way, and as a person with experience - and interest - both as a photographer and a model, I could personally go either way (and would appreciate the opportunity to try both). As a photographer, I'd love to hang out with a beautiful model, in an everyday capacity, and take casual pictures of her, or use that everyday experience to inspire new photographic ideas. And, knowing this, I can also look at it the other way. As a model, when I'm out and about, in an everyday capacity, I often wish I had somebody around to take pictures of me - especially to document a lot of the cute and sexy outfits I wear when I'm not naked.

Not being a social butterfly, I've partly made up for this state of affairs by being (as a model) my own photographer, and (as a photographer) my own model - i.e., by practicing self-portrait photography. But it's not a perfect solution, due to the limitations intrinsic to the practice. In the first place, it's really hard to get good pictures of something you can't stand back and look at. Also, since you're not holding the camera when you take the shot, you need some kind of tripod, or some other way to set up the camera. At home, this is not such a big deal (which is why I shoot at home so much) - although it limits the kind of ready angles you can shoot from, and takes a lot of the "exploring" process of the photographer's eye out of the equation, which results in much of a "samey" feel to a lot of my pictures.

But out in public, setting up a tripod turns the whole process of getting a picture into a big production. Imagine the ease with which somebody can whip out a cellphone and quickly snap a pic of a friend in a public place, compared to some weirdo setting up a tripod and getting in people's ways, especially  considering all the paranoia about pictures and the internet and "you're not taking pictures of my kids are you?!" - even when it's pretty clear you're not. Sometimes it's just not practical (or generally permitted) to take the time to set up a tripod, and, besides, doing so really draws attention to what you're doing. As someone who easily gets self-conscious, I am just as likely to not take a picture as take the time being the center of attention to get the shot I want.

So I feel like a lot of potentially great shots are being missed, because of the way I'm sort of trapped inside my own photographic subject, and how it limits the way I see (and can shoot) myself. For example, the other day I was in the park in a really cute pair of pink shorts during a rainstorm (sheltered under a pavilion), and, naturally, as a photographer, I thought to myself that I could have gotten some great pictures of me sitting or standing out there in the middle of a storm. What I wouldn't have given for either a) a photographer companion to get some great shots of me for me, or b) a beautiful model companion to take pictures of instead. Think of all the great shots I could be taking, that I'm missing out on!

So anyway, if I had a muse, I'd be constantly checking her out, and undoubtedly getting photo ideas all day long. I know this because, whenever there are mirrors set up in my house - and I like to have lots of mirrors set up in my house - not because I'm narcissistic, but because it facilitates my craft - it's getting a glance of myself in the mirror that freqeuently sets off my photographic impulse. And so it was, that I was sitting at the table reading a book just after finishing breakfast, and I happened to glance over and get a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought, that would make a great picture - and out the camera came. And see the result? Now I just wish it were easier to churn out pictures like this more often.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Door Greeter

I've heard stories about people (especially nudists) forgetting to put clothes on before answering the door. But have you ever made the absent-minded mistake of answering the door naked with a hard-on?


Okay, okay, chances are, when that happens, it's no mistake...

Greeting at the door naked is, obviously, an intriguing photo concept for me, but I realized that it would be pretty uninteresting if I didn't somehow raise the stakes and find a way to outdo my previous result (seen here). And that's how this image was born.

And now, the ensuing essay:

I've talked about this before (more than once, in fact), but I have an interesting take on exhibitionism. I'd like to believe it's not so unique, and that there are more people out there like me than the criminals and social misfits - a lot of which may not even realize the extent of their desires, or who have conformed to the stereotype in the absence of a better alternative model - but certainly my experience goes against the accepted stereotype of "the public flasher", which everyone seems to think is a sufficient representation of a person with exhibitionist impulses.

The truth is, I am very intensely turned on by the thought of being exposed - whether it's just my body, or, more specifically, engaged in sexual acts - or being so engaged in non-private places that are not usually designated for such things. (How this relates to my being a [genuine] nudist is an important but complex issue, that I have addressed elsewhere - here, and here). But here's the thing. It's almost as if people believe that if someone has a sexual desire (fetish, if you like) like this, that it's the end of the story, and he will simply get his kicks regardless of any other factors.

But isn't it true, as the BDSM community would profess, that a person with a rape fantasy, for example, is capable of withholding his urge to rape, or, probably in more cases, doesn't even have a desire to commit actual (versus fantasy) rape, because he understands all the mitigating factors that make real rape an entirely different beast from fantasy rape? There's something in there, something psychological, that makes a thing like that sexually appealing to the right person. But that's not the end of the story. We are not brainless slaves to our single-minded sexual impulses, and it does not blind us to reality and the repercussions of our actions.

In my case, there is something in the psychological concept of exposure that I find sexually appealing. I'm not interested in psychoanalyzing it just now; I'm happy simply to take advantage of it to increase the amount of pleasure in my life (without hurting anyone or breaking the law). But at the same time, I have a very strong fear of being exposed. Think about that for a second. The concept of exposure excites me, but actual exposure frightens me - because I understand the repercussions. Most people don't want to unexpectedly see that sort of thing, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that their reaction is going to be largely negative (not to mention the legal trouble you could get into).

So I don't actually want to expose myself to people. Or at least, not anyone who isn't expecting it, and I don't imagine will enjoy it. The possibility for exposure gets me excited, but were it to actually happen (and in cases where the possibility turns to imminent threat), everything changes, and I go into defense mode. So, though I may sometimes engage in nominally risky behaviors (like in remote woods, on dark streets, in front of windows), I am not a threat to society, and certainly the very conception of my behavior does not require someone to be the unsuspecting victim - that just doesn't factor into it at all.

Still, I am an exhibitionist. I learned that when I started my journey in self-portrait photography. I had to get over my inhibitions, of course, but gradually my excitement at exposing myself to a receptive and encouraging audience overtook the stress and anxiety that was indoctrinated into me by a sex negative society. I can't understand how anyone could get off on shocking and disgusting unsuspecting strangers when they could instead get their rocks off exposing themselves to people who are enthusiastic about seeing it - except, of course, that a sex negative society has a way of turning non-conformers down dark alleys by limiting and restricting the positive outlets available for non-traditional sexual desires.

Nowadays, I derive great enjoyment from the entire process of making sexy pictures (being both the subject and the director of those pictures), and sharing them with an audience who is just as excited at getting to see my exposed body, and even engaging in sexual behaviors, as I am, being the one exposed. This is what I refer to as "consensual voyeurism/exhibitionism" (since voyeurism and exhibitionism, of the consensual variety, are really just two sides of the same coin). This delights me greatly, and I've added it to my sexual repertoire, which includes masturbating to pornography, and engaging in socio-sexual contacts (i.e., actually having sex with another person) - not all of which always require orgasm, or sometimes even physical arousal, to effect a satisfactory measure of enjoyment.

And of these outlets, the exhibitionism that inspires my photography is probably the most productive, because, the way I approach it, I get to make (hopefully) lasting and worthwhile art in the process of getting my jollies. That's why I like erotic art better than both non-erotic art and non-artistic porn. It's sexy, and it's beautiful. And I don't understand these sexual conformists who believe that you should only engage in specific sexual behaviors, or that you should only have one particular kind of sexual outlet - people who believe that masturbation has no place within a marriage, or that somehow exposing yourself to (willing) strangers demeans or belittles the partners you have sexual arrangements with, despite the fact that looking is worlds away from touching! I'll let absolutely anyone look at my naked body, or even watch me having sex, if that's something they want to do (and it doesn't get me in trouble) - anyone! But I let very few people touch me. And that's just the way I like it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

When I'm not posing


Perhaps there would be some value in doing a photo study to emphasize the difference between how I look when I'm all perfectly posed for a photograph, and how I really look, with all my flaws hanging out, in everyday life. I think it's important for people to understand that idealized photographs are a selective and often manipulated cross-section of reality, and that even people who look perfect in them are not so perfect in real life. Perhaps it would also be valuable to demonstrate the fact that a person can still look beautiful, and above all, the magnetism of their personhood can shine through, even when they don't have perfect, streamlined bodies. After all, that's the goal of body acceptance is it not? And the antithesis of vanity - although maybe I'm not the best poster child for that...


Still, it's worth thinking about. But for now, the impetus of these two shots was simply the desire to document more naturally how I look when I'm moving about the house, in the nude, as opposed to the usual images you see of me in largely artificial positions, designed to emphasize my best features, and hide my flaws. I think it's amazing, for example, that from the right angle, in the right light, I can take pictures of myself that make it look like I have a trim, tight stomach, seeing as the extra flab around my midsection is one of my most frustrating problem areas. Of course, it's often the case that a person is their own worst critic, and that's certainly true of me at times. And everyone has different tastes, and there are other qualities beyond the surface layer that contribute to the way a person sees you, besides.

But I shoot my photography mainly to please myself. That it can please others, too, delights me enormously.

Posed, for comparison:


I like the first one, because it's more honest. I think there's more of a humanity to it, and that's definitely something I can pick up on. At the same time, as an aesthete, the lines and curves in the last image are irresistible. I don't even care if it's forced. It's still real. I think there's room in the art world - and my portfolio - for both, and there's no reason to disparage either one.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Swimsuit Model

Hello, there. I'm trying to decide which of these swimsuits I should wear to the pool. Care to help me decide?

The String Bikini

Origin: I bought this bikini at a secondhand store, because it looked so hot, and I really wanted it, mainly to wear for private photo sessions.

Pros: It's a string bikini, what more can I say? It's hot pink, really skimpy, and super sexy!

Cons: It doesn't stay on. I don't have the breasts to keep the top in place, and the material on the bottom doesn't stretch much; it is utterly incapable of keeping my package in and holding itself up.

Verdict: Cute and sexy, but not practical for public wear.

The "Mankini"

Origin: This is actually just the bottom half of a regular bikini I received as a hand-me-down (or up), but I like to wear it on its own. It's pretty comfortable.

Pros: While still being cute (it has cherries on it), the black color is a little less flashy, which I think draws less attention to my package. Also, the material does an incredible job of stretching over my package and keeping everything in place.

Cons: There's nothing, really, I dislike about this suit, but it should be kept in mind that not everyone is used to men showing off so much skin, or even just wearing styles like this.

Verdict: This is definitely a swimsuit I could wear in public, but only in places where people wouldn't freak out over a man wearing so little. (And not in pools that have sexist rules that discriminate against men).

The Pink Suit

Origin: This is one of two suits I bought online, while looking for a compromise between the bikini I'd like to wear and the board shorts men are expected to wear (my legs are one of my best features, it's not fair that I should have to cover them up just because I'm a man!). This is the more daring of the two.

Pros: It's really cute - and pink! It fits well and keeps everything in place. Plus, it hugs my ass real tight and makes it look fantastic!

Cons: Even though the legs of the shorts are super short (pro!), they have a tendency to ride up my thighs. Other than that, the way the suit grips my package is maybe not so modest, and especially between the legs there's some definite "cameltoe" action (or male equivalent) going on.

Verdict: It's cute and sexy, and more practical than the string bikini, but probably not something I would wear in public unless I was very comfortable with the people I'd be around (or, perhaps more importantly, if the people I'd be around were very comfortable with me).

The Black Suit

Origin: This is the more modest of the two suits I bought online, and was exactly the style I was looking for as a compromise between the coverage of shorts and the exposure of "briefs".

Pros: I think the style is cute, and looks very much like a pair of short athletic shorts. The black color is modest, and my package stays in place and out of the spotlight. The pockets are really small and maybe not that practical, but I still think they're a nice touch - I could probably throw my keys in there if I'm walking across the deck, or some money for the snack bar or something.

Cons: They cover more than I'd like, and they don't show off my ass as much, but those are both things I think I'm gonna have to deal with if I want a suit that won't freak people out.

Verdict: It's more modest than my personal style would call for, but it's probably the least I could get away with (knock on wood) in any regular capacity. That having been said, for a more modest suit (I know, my standards are twisted, aren't they?), I quite like it, so I can't really complain. All that's left is to actually try it out!

The Nude

Origin: I picked up this suit on the day of my birth, and I've been wearing it ever since. In fact, I absolutely refused to take it off when I was a child. I like to wear it as much as possible these days.

Pros: It's surprisingly flattering, and really as attractive as anything I could wear. There is also, of course, the sensual delight in baring it all. It also dries very fast, and doesn't cling to you when you climb out of the pool.

Cons: Aside from the fact that you could get arrested for wearing it in most public places, the only real problem with it I could foresee is that, among all the suits, it provides the least coverage in the embarrassing case that something unexpectedly gets you "excited". So some self-control is required.

Verdict: Obviously - and unfortunately - this is not a practical suit for most public environments. But in those few places where it is allowed - in private, and in clothing optional pools and swimming holes - I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Transgender Issues, Swimsuits, and Feminism (Part 2)

(This post is a continuation from here).

So, I say again, I think that having restrictions based on sex don't make much sense, except where they are reasonable restrictions based directly on what genitalia a person has (and places where this even matters are going to be extremely rare, I would think). I would even go so far as to call them discriminatory. And the preeminent example of this in my mind - and I hope that it doesn't seem too trivial for you, because it has been causing me no end of anxiety lately - is in the rules and expectations of swim attire and how they differ for men and women in a typical American environment (I hear Europeans are a bit more open-minded about such things, and other cultures are in an even better position not to reflect puritan and sexist American sensibilities).

I love pool culture. Thankfully, most of the time I've spent swimming in recent years has been in a nudist environment, and I feel like a lot of the usual anxiety of being transgender melts away when the clothes come off. I don't have to be overly concerned with what I'm wearing, and the signals it may be giving people, and how they might react when they find out those signals are "mixed". People can simply take a glance at me, see that I have a penis, see that I am also naturally feminine, and simply understand that this is the way I am.

But there may be opportunities where I'll want to go swimming in a non-nudist environment - and certainly I feel as though I've been avoiding said opportunities for all the anxiety that thinking about them causes me. As I said, I love pool culture. Summer is my favorite time of year, and I also enjoy the water. I won't completely write off the possibility that my perspective is biased by my unashamedly perverted nature - and I'm not saying I don't understand all the anxiety that's involved with this for many people - but it seems to me fairly obvious that the pool is an opportunity for people to take off a lot of their clothes - about as much as society will permit, in any given era - and more or less strut their stuff, and appreciate what others have to show.

I know, it's horrible of me, right, treating the pool as some kind of meat market? But it's not that bad. I'm just saying, I appreciate the human body - it's a work of art (and I say that as one genuinely dedicated to art). I'm also kind of an exhibitionist - and again, there are a lot of nasty stereotypes involved with that - but it's not that I have any desire to shove my exposed genitals into a poor and unexpected stranger's face, just for the sheer joy(?) of experiencing their shocked and disgusted reaction. It's just simply a sort of preening behavior. And you can't honestly tell me that all those girls in the fashionably skimpy bikinis (obviously not everyone at the pool is doing this, but you can tell that some of them are) aren't enjoying showing it off, and you definitely can't tell me that many, if not most, of the guys are appreciating the view. It's kind of one of those under-the-radar, not-really-talked-about-but-everybody-accepts-it sort of things.

Of course, there I go, giving a very gendered description of the pool environment. But that's just the thing. It is very gendered, and that's exactly what I have a problem with. The girls are expected to wear skimpy bikinis that emphasize every contour of their bodies (that aren't outright exposed) and be looked at, and the guys are supposed to wear baggy shorts that completely cover up the shape of their body, and do all the looking. I'm in a bit of a quandary, though, because even though I enjoy very much to do the looking, I also, as one who identifies as female, have a particular desire to show off what I've got and be appreciated too. (And feminists will talk to you about how this is patriarchal oppression of women, making them think they want the objectifying gaze of horny men, but the truth, as I see it, is that this is a natural, harmless, and quite enjoyable part of the basic way that the human male and female interact - a form of mating behavior).

Now, I don't want to say that there isn't an opposite element in play, where the girls enjoy looking at the guys, but there is very clearly a different way that men and women preen, and to me it seems quite obvious that there is an imbalance - in terms of how much the women are showing off, and how much the men are showing off. If this were simply a matter of fashion - i.e., "speedos" and other "brief-type" swimwear for men being socially unpopular in American pools - that would be one thing. But to my great distress I am seeing rules explicitly outlawing the wearing of these garments by men! Is my stance really that unreasonable? A "speedo"-type swimsuit (and we're talking about the sort of mainstream swimwear here that is popular in the Olympic games, of all fucking things) seems, to me, to basically be the equivalent of the woman's bikini.

Yes, it's true, that women have to cover their breasts and men don't - and this is an example of inequality between the genders. But whether you think the female breast is indecent, or legitimately considered a sex organ, or not, that is the reasoning behind this gender disparity. And though you may not agree with this opinion, the fact that it is the justification for the rule is at least logical (if not "righteous"). And, honestly, you can't tell me that the little bit of fabric (two modestly-sized triangles in many cases) women are required to wear on the top balances out the yards of fabric that make up the ridiculously long (seriously, mid-shin?) and baggy legs of the "board short" style of swimsuits that are so ubiquitously popular among men these days.

Before you object, I'm not suggesting that every woman wears (or is required or expected to wear) a string bikini. However, the woman who chooses to wear one is fully permitted to do so - and, indeed, you can't go to the pool on a crowded day without expecting to see several women so dressed (and yet, apparently without threatening the "family friendly" atmosphere, which is sometimes the reasoning behind the speedo-ban - on the contrary, you'll not infrequently find young women, sometimes even girls, donning these fashions, and it is not unheard of for young boys in other cultures, probably the European ones, to wear speedos without alarm or incident). The man who chooses to wear a speedo, however, is nonexistent. To what extent this is due to the fact that such a man would presumably be booted from the premises, and to what extent it is due to such garments being worn by men simply being socially unacceptable (around here, a man wearing a speedo would probably be ridiculed into conformity, as sad as that is), I can't say. But either way, the effect is the same.

There is also the ever-important matter of the difference between men and women's genitalia. Men are considered to have "external" genitalia, as opposed to women's more "internal" genitalia. However, though I won't deny there is a considerable difference at play here (as I am painfully aware of, due to all the times I've wanted to wear sleek skirts and dresses, and even women's swimwear, but wasn't able to hide or contain my package), I will again say that I think too much is often made of the difference. It is not impossible for a woman's external "features" to become clearly defined by a certain type of swimsuit, particularly when wet, and the same could be said for the nipples, whose clear outline may also sometimes be considered more or less "indecent". I could reasonably understand how a form-fitting swimsuit that clearly displays the outline of the male genitalia could be considered a little more "risque" than a family-friendly waterpark would be comfortable with (note the importance of being reasonable). But I know from experience (as I own a brand-name Speedo) that some suits are specifically designed to be a bit more "modest" in that sense, but without sacrificing the amount of exposure that a brief-type swimsuit allows.

Again, this is basically the male equivalent of a bikini, and I don't see why a woman should be allowed and (often) expected to wear a swimsuit that exposes as much as possible, and clearly defines the shapes and contours of what it doesn't expose, but a man should not. That is sexual discrimination. A restriction on thong suits, as a counter-example, is both reasonable (I can understand how a thong could be considered "risque") and applies equally to both sexes. There are swimsuits - for both sexes - that go too far, and they are usually obvious, because they are designed to be. "Speedos" and "brief-style" swimwear for men do not fall into this category, in general, and a restriction against them is unreasonable and discriminatory. Am I the only one that thinks this?

I mean, think about some of those bikinis - not even the thong ones, but the regular ones - and how much they emphasize or even expose a woman's ass. The ass is like a middle ground - both sexes have them, and the differences between the sexes are not as great as those between their primary genitalia or their breasts. It's perfectly okay for women to flaunt their asses in such a way. But since "brief-style" swimsuits are not allowed for men, and the only real common fashions that are available (and widely permitted) for men are medium to ultra-long shorts, there's really no option there for a man who wants to flaunt his assets.

What's going on here? Is this some kind of war on men's sexuality? It seems to be a corollary to the patriarchal control of women's sexuality - specifically in the way that women are objectified, and expected to be objectified, by the male gaze. Men, on the other hand, are mocked and criticized for expressing any sex appeal - and this is often a function of homophobia. Which, in turn, reflects the male-dominated nature of public media. If women's perspectives were more widely considered in the media, then an expression of male sexuality wouldn't so commonly be interpreted by other men as homoerotic imagery, so much as heteroerotic imagery, but for women (hard to imagine, right, guys?). Of course, there's nothing wrong with homoerotic imagery, either, and I would hope that continually more accepting attitudes of homosexuality in the culture at large will progressively recognize that.

I think, though, that there's a very real understanding that men aren't really expected to "preen" for women. Which ties into all the sexual stereotypes, about men being the aggressors and women the "prey". There may be a very real biological basis to this behavior - and I don't have the intention to refute that - but I've never been interested in forcing people to conform to the mainstream. That it's not common or expected for men to be the meat doesn't mean that if a man has the right mentality, he shouldn't be allowed to preen, whether for females or other males. And I can't imagine any place where this scenario would be more applicable than in the transgender context - that of individuals who flout the typical gender and sexual stereotypes.

There is also another matter that my be involved, which has to do with - wait for it - more stereotypes about how the different genders approach sexual attitudes. This isn't entirely unrelated to what I discussed above. But the corollary to women being expected to preen and be submissively objectified by males is the understanding that males, with all their aggressive testosterone, are horny beasts. If a woman flaunts her body, it's because she's following the dictates of a patriarchal society, and anyway it's not so much a reflection of her sexual agency as it is her submission to the male expectation that she be a sexual object. If a man wants to flaunt his body, on the other hand, it's seen as cocky behavior (pardon the word choice). And if he wears a swimsuit that emphasizes, say, his package, then it's seen as being some kind of threatening sexual behavior. He must be a pervert, and could very well be a danger to women and children.

Note how the female exhibitionist can get by thanks to expectations of women's place in society, and stereotypes of her gender, but the male exhibitionist does not fare so well by the same standards (but applied to his gender). And standing unfortunately in the middle is me, who does not have aggressive, masturbatory intentions in "showing off my body", but simply wants to fit in with the women who are simply flaunting what they've got, in sort of a more submissive - and decidedly less threatening - way. Feminists spend an awful lot of time complaining about how women are objectified and all that, and how unfair it is that they're expected to wear body-baring bikinis and let males gaze at them and whatnot. But, despite all the "power" males are supposed to have, I don't feel like I am able to similarly visit a public pool in a "body-baring" speedo. I don't think that women's choices (e.g., to wear sexy , revealing clothes) should be reduced (no matter the "feminist implications"); only that men's choices should be expanded. Because, the thing is, males only have power insofar as they behave like males are "supposed" to behave. And as a male identifying as female, I'm left out in the cold. I'm too female to play in the boys' club, but too male to run with the girls.

That's why I think we need something of a trans-feminism, or a post-feminism - something that pays more attention to the equality angle of uniting the sexes (including the non-mainstream and non-binary ones), rather than the sex-centric isms (on both sides) that seem to foster nothing but division between the sexes, by postulating the existence of just two sexes - and treating one as the hero, and the other the enemy. But that's yet another issue and this post has gone on way too fricking long already...

Goodness, a simple rule banning speedos shouldn't make a person think this much. But I simply can't accept it. And every time I start to wonder if I'm being biased and unreasonable, I think about those women in bikinis, and I just can't help feeling how incredibly imbalanced it is. If it's indecent for a man to wear a speedo, and if no man would wear one for anything but unacceptably prurient reasons, I just can't see how anyone of that mindset could, at the same time, think it's perfectly justifiable for women to do the same thing. Unless, of course, they've given leave of their reasoning faculties, and that is, unfortunately, far too common an occurrence.

Transgender Issues, Swimsuits, and Feminism (Part 1)

Preamble: I sincerely apologize for the length of this post (in fact, I'm splitting it in two). But this is what it's like to be me. Welcome to the inside of my mind. I've been sitting here at this computer typing for... well over two hours, quite nearly nonstop. I've been told (often) that I think too much. It's a blessing, but it can also be a curse. Certainly, I believe it has much to do with the pervasive anxiety I feel that limits much of what I am possible of doing. But I am taken to understand that I am fairly smart, and I've been told that I am fairly eloquent (when I have the time to choose my words), so it's my hope that maybe I can apply my overworking mind to the occasional issue of social significance, and maybe, hopefully, make some valuable insights now and then. Let's begin.

I still have no clear idea exactly what criteria must be met for a person to be considered "transgender". It's strange, given how comfortable I am thinking of myself as female, and how frequently I dress as such, and how often I "pass" in public situations where strangers often refer to me (usually in the company of my BFF) as "ladies" (although the doubting part of me in the back of my mind questions whether I am actually passing, or if the people speaking to me are just so forward-thinking as to pick up on the fact that though I may be a man, I'm "trying" to be a woman - even though the passing angle is by far the simpler and probably more likely scenario), but I still have times when I question whether I truly get to label my identity and experience as "transgender".

But - and this is all related - to the extent that I do consider myself transgender, I guess I have something of a unique perspective because, like in so many things, I don't fit the stereotype. I didn't grow up knowing I was born with the wrong body. Even now, and even to the extent that I regret the parts of me that are masculine (like my deep voice, and my broad shoulders), I don't have any real strong desire to fuck with my body chemistry, or go under the knife and endure radical surgery (say what you want, but I can't envision taking a penis and a pair of testicles and fashioning it into a vagina being anything short of "radical") to force my body to align with my mental gender.

In any case, I'm already a very feminine male. Indeed, it's the fact that I'm already so feminine that has largely encouraged me to reconsider my gender identity in the first place. I don't so much need chemicals and surgery to make me more feminine - I already am feminine. I just happen to have a penis, and maybe some other masculine qualities. But choosing to present as female - rehauling my wardrobe, and making certain preparations, like shaving excess facial/body hair - has gone a long way in changing the way I present. I mean, that's one of those confusing things about being transgender. What parts of it are mental and what parts physical? Is it possible to have a male body that nevertheless possesses many feminine traits, and what impact does that have on your gender identity? Do many transgender people (of the MtF variety, only because that's what I have personal experience with), on the other hand, have very masculine bodies, but know inside that they are female, and are thus driven more strongly to turn to science to right their physiological situation?

I don't have the answers to these questions. But another thing that makes my situation a bit...different...is my sexual orientation. I don't want to generalize, and I bring this up precisely because it is a stereotype, but it seems to me that a lot of people make presumptions about transpersons' sexuality, and the stereotype is that they're sexually attracted to their own pre-op gender, so in the case of MtF, the male transitions to female, to end up in ostensibly "straight" relationships with males, or in the case of those insensitive individuals who consider them "still male", they're basically gay but with the added complication of the sex change. On the contrary, in my case, my sexual orientation yields no pressure to transition, since I am sexually attracted to the gender I identify with. Indeed, if anything, it makes me want to keep my penis because it makes it so much easier for me to pair up, sexually, with females (the majority of which are probably predominantly straight). In that sense, without transitioning, I am a normal straight male. But with transition, I would become a lesbian female - although I imagine there would be some number of "true" lesbians who don't consider "transwomen" "real women", and feel that I am just a man trying to infiltrate one of the purest "women's spaces" - that of genetic women sexually attracted to other genetic women.

It becomes that much more complicated when I opt to keep my male genitalia - although if you think that makes it easy for me to simply remain a "straight male", how many women, honestly, do you know are sexually attracted to men who identify, present, and pass as women? Certainly, there are some - I've had the good fortune to meet one - but I don't think it's the norm. In spite of what women might say about wishing men were more like them, the cold, hard truth is that women are biologically attracted to certain features men have that make them distinct from women - otherwise wouldn't they just be attracted to other women? Truthfully, I often wonder if I should play up some more of my masculine qualities (or potential qualities), for the sake of attracting more women - seeing as I get way more attention from straight men (who think I'm a woman) and gay men (who "realize" I'm a "man", but still appreciate me for my feminine qualities) - in both cases men, who I am not sexually attracted to (leastwise - being true to Kinsey's findings on the vast spectrum of sexualities - not enough to consider pursuing anything). But the problem with that is that I don't truly feel like myself when I'm presenting as a man. Although there are a lot of anxieties that go along with presenting as a woman (chiefly among them the fear of being found out by someone who doesn't think kindly of those who flout the rules about gender stereotypes), the fact that I still do it and gain some significant measure of satisfaction from doing it ought to mean something.

But that's not even the whole story, because, at this point, we're still beholden to a binary framework for the sexes (or to the legitimacy of gender stereotypes). There's a bit of logical confusion that settles in here, depending on how you define how sex relates to gender. If the genitalia determines the gender, then a person with a penis who wears a frilly dress to the prom is a man. And if the gender stereotypes determine gender, then it's enough for a man to wear a frilly dress to the prom (because he feels right in it, and not for any trivial reason, like to fulfill a dare) to be considered a woman. But the truth is, both of these views are held simultaneously by modern society (see how the "man who wears a skirt" is treated on the basketball court, and then see how contrarily the same "woman with a penis" is treated when he goes to the ladies' restroom - is he a woman, or a man? - he is treated as either and both, but depending only on which one allows the rest of society to mock and ridicule him, not on which allows him to feel more comfortable and accepted), yet if the genitalia and the gender stereotypes determine gender, then there's this whole swath of people whose genitalia don't match the gender stereotypes they are expressing who are being ignored and made invisible, and treated expectedly with confusion and incredulity whenever and wherever they make themselves known (whether intentionally or not).

The point I am trying laboriously to whittle toward is this: does it even matter if I am a man or a woman or a transperson of any stripe? Should it matter? If I have a problem with my physiology it's one thing. But if my problem is primarily with the social construction of gender - what I wear, how I look, to some extent my mannerisms and personality traits - does it even matter? If I want to wear a skirt on the basketball court, why does it matter whether I have a penis or a vagina under that skirt? And is it anyone's business in the first place? Restrooms may be a thornier matter, because they do have some direct relation to what kind of plumbing a person has (although, honestly, I think too much is made of the differences between the way men and women use the bathroom - I sit down to pee 99% of the time anyway). But you can make reasonable restrictions based on a person's genitalia that don't bring gender into play at all.

Another thing that complicates matters, which is getting back to the limitations of the gender binary, is - why do people even have to be male or female, man or woman, in the first place? What about those people who are androgynous, or gender fluid, who either exist in some place between (treating gender as a spectrum), or who freely move between either of the end points? If a person is presenting as male today, does he have to adhere to male-based restrictions when he is presenting as a female tomorrow? Why does anyone have to pick just one or the other? This kind of thinking really brings into question the merit of any kind of restrictions that are based on rigid gender stereotypes, and the idea that there are two distinct kinds of people in this world - male, and female - and that every person is either one or the other and never changes throughout the course of their life, or if they do, as in the case of the stereotypical transperson, it is this one momentous change that is supposed to "fix" an "error" of birth that happens at one particular point in their life (usually during the time of surgery), before which they are the one sex/gender, and after which they are the other. This picture just doesn't adequately reflect the reality of the matter, and, as I suggested before, marginalizes, if not completely ignores, a wide swath (even if they do only constitute a minority) of very unique and fabulous people.

(This post continues here).