He’s pretty hot. She’s so fit.
A total 10.
Sound familiar? You bet. For those who identify as sexual, it’s life. Whether internal monologue or cheeky chat with friends, these little declarations of desire punctuate the everyday.
We’re conditioned with a framework of beauty ideals. We know what makes the perfect male or female form. Sure, we combine these with our own idiosyncratic wants, what turns us on. Some of us might have a ‘type’, others embrace the unexpected. But the truth is, these concepts of beauty, culturally specific and constructed, exert a huge pressure on sexuality.
Beauty, that set of unattainable ideals. That audaciously fraudulent fiction.
I’m going to talk about queer male desire here. To do this, I need to put out a massive disclaimer: I do not want to erase the hideous routine objectification of women at the hands of the patriarchy. This endemic policing of the idealized female body has been decried and deconstructed by many – see Naomi Wolf’s seminal deconstruction of the beauty myth, for a start.
I could talk about that all day. But, for now, – can we just take a minute – a quick sec – to just WTF at the queer male gaze?
By gaze, I mean the construction of the male, desiring subject. And by queer, I mean the placement of this desire in non-normative sexual cultures.
I’m troubled by the queer fetishization of masculinity (more here). The pressure to perform a normative gender role to gain acceptance. Whoever straight-acts best has the most sex appeal. Yes, there’s an element of subversion here – a big two fingers to heterosexuality. But there’s also an awful marginalization of those whose bodies are less normative.
What about this guy who entered Mr Gay UK? Oh, and I wouldn’t normally mention this, but he weighs 30 stone. And gets treated horrendously. He courageously enters the competition, and the crowd at his heat go wild. But he gets erased out of the competition later by the organisers. Erm, sorry? Isn’t this the kind of shallow policing of women’s bodies we expect from something like Cosmo? Or, ahem, the entire patriarchy?
This might be an extreme example. But the hyperobjectification of men by other men really troubles me. A persecuted group internalizing discrimination. Being queer, by definition, explodes social codes. It upsets me that rigid norms of physical beauty persist in the gay community – codes that will, and do, damage those who don’t conform to them.
Oh, sure, a range of sexual roles exist – and they’re not all hypermasculine. But isn’t this practice of codifying the male body (see this delightful little list for examples) exactly the problem?
We pay lip service to the idea that there’s a place for everyone. But in a culture where bodies are codified and beauty is a hierarchy, people get marginalized.
Isn’t it a fucking tragedy that these rigid norms of masculinity persist when queer identity should mean a radical, unrestricted freedom from the confines of normative gender?
My desire already queers society’s expectations of me. I’m going to queer expectations of my body, too.
I know I’m a hypocrite. I’ve been raised on this framework of objectification for a lifetime. I would love to proudly be all ‘no fucks given’ – but it’s exhausting. I do construct an image for myself through my clothes. Whenever I look in the mirror I adjust how I appear. I internalize the gaze of others.
Identifying as cis-male, I struggle with the pressure of masculinity. And the problem? Liking guys means that, on some level, I’ve accepted those restrictive, prescriptive standards of beauty.
The distinction between loving my own body, which is conventionally masculine, and yielding to these toxic standards, is a very fine line indeed.
What pisses me off the most are the value judgements that are made of queer men. That horrific aesthetic scaling of bodies – I’m an 8, he’s only a 5 – no thanks. These might be liberating proclamations of desire that society forbids us to have. But they also constrict us to a set of unattainable ideals. And people get hurt by ideals.
The answer, for me, is in this fantastic blog by Mia Mingus. Although she’s writing on femme disabled experience specifically, I believe her argument resonates with every individual in our sexualized society.
She literally preaches the truth throughout the entire piece. She says that
There is only the illusion of solace in beauty. If age and disability teach us anything, it is that investing in beauty will never set us free. Beauty…has always taken the form of an exclusive club; and supposed protection against violence, isolation and pain, but this is a myth. It is not true, even for those accepted in to the club. I don’t think we can reclaim beauty.
Whatever body norms I’m told to obey, I’ll resist – because, as Mingus eloquently shows, there’s something more in me.
Each one of us has boundless inner worth. It’s laughable – and a travesty – to define worth by our bodies, which are magnificent in our diversity.
I’m on the way to leaving behind the aesthetic scaling of bodies.
My worth is not defined by the gaze of others. I’m magnificent – even when I’m at my most ugly.