Sunday, March 26, 2017

On Being Both Beauty and The Beast

My ex-wife recently wrote a beautiful blog post about how Disney's Belle was a hero for her as a socially awkward, bookish teenager who felt she had no sex appeal to boys--she saw in Belle a message that a girl's value could be in other things besides her looks. I'm glad that Belle exists for this reason, and I'm glad that my daughters (and my son) are growing up in a world where there are a lot of female protagonists in pop culture who display other admirable traits besides physical beauty: Hermione's intelligence, Rey's courage, Katniss's don't-mess-with-me attitude.

I'm also glad that Emma Watson, who so beautifully portrays Belle's bookish bravery, is not afraid to embrace her own sex appeal. Looking at Belle from the perspective of my ex-wife's essay, I can understand why some feminists are upset at Emma Watson "betraying" hers and Belle's ideals to appear in a sexualized photo shoot in Vanity Fair*. Even though I can understand this argument, I solidly side with those other feminists who support Watson's right to use her body as she pleases.

I didn't understand this issue until a few years ago. For much of my life, especially when I was a gay man trying to make a straight marriage work, I devalued sexuality. I insisted that my love for my wife was purer because it was non-sexual--my feelings for her weren't clouded with any desire to objectify her. Why would anybody want to be objectified by their significant other, I wondered? I felt very progressive and feminist in this belief.

And then I got divorced and started dating men, and I discovered what it was to be objectified. In those first few months of going on dates, clubbing, and going to parties with gay men, I learned for the first time that I'm a decently attractive guy. I had never found myself attractive, so when men told me how young I looked and complimented me on my looks, I was pleasantly surprised. I liked it enough that I started working harder to cultivate my looks--working out every day, having fun with various hairstyles and colors, buying tighter-fitting clothes. The first time I wore a skimpy European-style swimsuit, I was self-conscious about wearing it, but showing off the body I'd worked so hard to improve was thrilling. My body ain't perfect and it never will be, but I love it and I enjoy putting it on display.

I love that my husband finds me sexy, and I love that I find him sexy. He objectifies me and I objectify him, and it works because it's our choice and it's mutually consensual. Physical attraction doesn't distract from the emotional and intellectual aspects of our relationship; it complements and enriches them. Some people want to preserve that experience of objectification for their significant other, some don't want it all. I support their right and would fight to defend it. But I will also fight to defend the right of those, like Emma Watson, who choose to enjoy being the object of strangers' physical attraction. It's okay to be both Beauty and the Beast.

*Disclaimer: I'm not making any claims about my ex-wife's feelings on this particular issue; her essay doesn't address the issue and I haven't asked her, so I can't speak on her behalf.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Where Have All The Good Guys Gone?

You know what keeps me up at night? This. This song is what keeps me up at night, aching to do more, to be more.

Mika’s “Good Guys” is at once an homage to the queer creative geniuses of the past—Alfred Kinsey, Cole Porter, David Bowie—and a call to action for the queer creative geniuses of tomorrow. Mika looks to the bold flamboyance of Warhol, the peculiar wit of Wilde, the eloquent masculinity of Whitman, then looks to the heterocentric creative landscape around him today and asks, “Where have all the gay guys gone?”

The music video’s choreography emphasizes the debt Mika owes to his gay predecessors, as every step he takes is literally made possible by the supporting dancers lifting his feet. When Mika is shown in a prison cell, recalling the horrendous fate of Oscar Wilde, from whom Mika borrowed the chorus of the song, I can’t help but feel that debt myself; the privilege I enjoy, living my upper middle class life as an out gay man with a husband and five kids, is only possible because of the queer pioneers who went before me, many giving their lives for my freedom. A hundred, fifty, twenty, even ten years ago I could not have lived the life I live today. The weight of this realization overwhelms me.

This is where Mika’s call to action comes into play: How can I, a privileged gay man with means and talent, take this beautiful gift that has been given to me and not use my means and talent to pass that gift on to the next generation? How can I not answer Mika’s question by standing up and shouting, “Here I am! I will be one of the good guys!”

Living in super-conservative Utah Valley, I am all too aware of the lack of positive LGBT role models for queer youth around me. I do my best to be visible in my community as an out gay man, volunteering at my kids' schools. I need to do more. I need to take the talent and means I have and use those to create something that will inspire generations to come. We may all be in the gutters, as Wilde and Mika remind me, but I will be one of those looking up at the stars.