As gender and sexuality become more fluid, the constructs and confines of the masculine ideal are changing, hopefully making way for a new era of acceptance.
In the green room, Saro is asking me about my nails.
Lifting my hands up to my phone’s camera, JJ lets out a sound of approval and asks me what the color is called. I tell him it’s my favorite OPI Infinite Shine color, Withstands the Test of Thyme, a name immediately met with chuckles and smirks from both guys before we go live.
Saro tells us about how he recently had his nails done for the first time (acrylics, never the less) and how he felt so at home in them.
Looking at the moving image of my hands on the screen, I think about the first time I got my nails manicured nearly three years ago, remembering how it felt so much like a moment of self-discovery despite societal expectations and pressures.
Unsurprisingly, my mother warned me it was unprofessional, as though I was getting a face tattoo.
My friends were also skeptical, thinking it was a form of rebellion aimed at triggering homophobes or a way of making a statement without feeling the discomfort of donning a dress and heading out to dinner. It was never meant to symbolize either of those things.
But, hey, if Helen of Troy’s beauty could bring on the fall of Troy, maybe a perfect manicure could in fact be the first crack in the armor of masculinity.
Of course, having my nails painted or even wearing a dress is not just a matter of aesthetics. These are explorations, opportunities for a deeper investigation into what it means to be male in our society.
As we go on air, I take a beat to explain to Saro, JJ and our audience the framework within which our conversation is going to live. We quickly come to an understanding: this conversation is with LGBTQ+ people by LGBTQ+ people for LGBTQ+ people. The conversation is just one in a series addressing the issues facing our community. We are working from the inside-out to improve our understanding of one another to tackle the roadblocks we all face. After all, our community is a family and we are growing, nearly doubling in the last eight years. As any unit grows, change is inevitable. Decades of growth in our community has allowed for three men to come together, sitting in front of their iPhones discussing the inevitable deconstruction of masculinity as both concept and framework for societal norms. Frankly, it’s pretty major.
In sacred tradition of an Alphabet Mafia meeting, we begin by self-identifying…
Arya, he/him, gay
JJ, he/him, queer
Saro, he/him, queer, biracial
“What is happening now is a sort of a renaissance, if you will, or – relooking at [my masculinity] for me and wondering why, how, when that was pushed out of me.”
The way JJ describes his experience grappling with societal expectations placed on him as a young boy ring true for Saro and me.
JJ reminds us of how, “it was obviously easier and better to pass as a straight, masc man for safety purpose and I am so ready to be done with that.”
I see Saro nodding, his brain obviously working through his own version of a fairly similar experience. He unearths words people used to describe him as a young man like “soft” and tells us about how his family was quick to reinforce societal expectations. It’s a challenge to listen to each man discuss how society did everything it could to trap them in such binary concepts of what it meant to be a man. This hits me particularly hard; my own experience of being raised in a borderline chauvinistic Iranian-American household and struggling to accept the box.
And yet, we all agree as queer and gay men, masculinity is something we were taught to strive for, as though it was a medal we got to wear around our necks. We all grew up in the era of “masc for masc” and the propping up of a very specific type of gay male body driven by gyms, Grindr and publications like Men’s Health.
As artists, I remind JJ and Saro of their innate responsibility to illuminate their individual experiences and how, as we are deconstructing gender and pronouns, artists are at the forefront of this exploration and uncovering.
When prompted, Saro explains, “The only way masculinity plays into [my music] is the human body. It is the most timeless attire.”
JJ asserts what interests him most in his photography is, “queer space and how queer bodies inhabit queer space.”
Both artists’ work is against the masculine norm that lives inside of our community, demanding a swift rethinking of beauty, manliness and how our bodies relate to one another.
This rethinking, truth be told, cannot be completed without understanding the defense mechanisms we carry with us as men living within our community. We have armor to avoid being labeled as “other,” an amalgam of a ‘straight voice,’ uniquely toxic body language and micro-aggressions we immediately fall into whenever we feel entrapped in non-safe spaces.
As we discuss these pieces of armor, I am reminded of the last circuit party I attended before the pandemic, one where I found myself in a room with only shirtless, white men who looked like they lived inside of a gym. The version of myself who surfaced in that room, the me that interacted with those strangers, was not one I would ever claim as part of who I am. That person, that fragmented, Picasso-esque version of me is what I was forced to create in order to deafen my imposter syndrome in spaces where no one looked like me.
Listening to JJ speak about how he no longer puts himself in those sorts of environments, I consider how often people within the LGBTQ+ community feel imposter syndrome in queer spaces and what that indicates about the work still left to be done in order to preserve and further our community towards a healthy, sustainable future.
Although it has bred tidal waves of toxicity in the community, JJ is quick to note how the hyper-masculinity inhabiting spaces like circuit parties, Fire Island, and more, although dangerous, comes from a history of attempting to present as, he put it, “post gay.” A quiet washes over the three of us as we reckon with the innate desire for masculinity that is still wrapped around our community like a snake.
We are quick to agree how shirtless, ripped, cis white gay men serving as representative of the community is detrimental to our goals. And yet, we also cannot deny how those men and what they represent lives in response to a history where gay men were seen as ill and deemed less than in terms of physical strength to straight men.
An entire generation of gay and queer men were seen covered in lesions, coughing up blood, unable to touch one another due to fear of illness. From there, we overcorrected to a world of abs and, as Saro puts it, “meatheads.” Now, we are attempting to course correct towards actual representation.
Our role as gay men who walk through life without much fear of persecution by the heteronormative world is to hand the microphone to others in the community who, for too long, have lived in the back of the crowd while the hypermasculine have inhabited the front. Only by passing the proverbial and, often, literal microphone can we further our deconstruction of masculinity and the tropes it extends throughout our community. This is the way the future will be formed.
When prompted about what he thinks that future will look like, Saro leans forward, determined.
“In the future, I think it will all be so blurred. Everything will be pretty fluid.”
JJ nods, staring right at the camera. I can see a look of cautious optimism in his eyes. He speaks with a smile.
“I hope so. I really do.”
New Law in Norway Requires Filtered or Retouched Ads to be Labeled
Filters have become the new norm on social media, but a new law in Norway requires retouched images, used for advertising purposes, to be labeled as such.
The new law is a part of Norway’s Marketing Act and is being used to help combat unrealistic beauty standards.
A study in 2016 found that exposure to altered Instagram photos had a negative effect on the body image of the adolescent girls studied.
“Body pressure is always there, often imperceptibly, and is difficult to combat. A requirement for retouched or otherwise manipulated advertising to be marked is one measure against body pressure.”Ministry of Children and Family in norway
The law requires that advertisements where a person’s body is shot through a physical filter or altered with enlarged lips, smaller waists, ripped muscles, or a different skin tone must have a standardized retouched label.
The law will also be used for images from influencers and celebrities on social media who receive payment or other benefits from the altered image.
This amendment was passed in a landslide 72 to 15 vote earlier this summer.
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