Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Body Electric

Is Oscar Pistorius the Jesse Owens of disability eroticism? Or has Alex Minsky usurped his throne?

The survivor of an IUD while serving in the military in Afghanistan, Minsky's leg was blown off.
the main critique among online comments is that Minsky has "too many tattoos." Obviously no stranger to body modifications, post-injury, perhaps Minksy sees this as an opportunity. Perhaps he already had his surplus of body art and was already a bit of an exhibitionist.

Either way, modeling for Rufskin clothing in photos by Tom Cullis for the gay magazine DNA proves that Minksy is comfortable being viewed, and objectified, as a sex symbol by the gay male audience.

The conclusion is obvious. It doesn't matter if you're disabled. You can be perceived as sexy in media, so long as you're 'hot.' Minksy enjoys a trifecta of eroticization; underwear model, tattoo fan's wet dream, and disabled military hero-hunk.

But the human story of Minksy's injury three years ago, and his grueling recovery, are of course ignored on the plethera of porn tumblr blogs. Here's a feature article from his hometown newspaper, written shortly after his hospitalization.

Minsky's premiere in modeling bridges two very different worlds; the gay male sex-positive culture ready to welcome him into their arms - and beds - as a lustful icon, and the Orange County conservative military culture that honors his service, including an Elks Club that "adopted" him.

I find his transformation fascinating, but his youthful gaze, his innocence, pre-injury are what make him a more interesting, and thereby sexy, person.

Pistorius, the Olympian/Paralympian, a media darling this summer, is also gaining popularity as a model, and not just a model of "inspiration," as many say. He's selling cologne. Dressed up like a Xanadu muse, the runner glistens in glamorous glory as he pitches cologne in this commercial (YouTube link).

Not only is Pistorius deservedly adored by the media gaze, he has ascended to the status of superhero, real and fictionalized. He's a sort of new entry among X-Men.

There have been artistic examples of eroticized disabled people before. Los Angeles photographer Rick Castro's evocative 1990 photo book Castro. (It's out of print, so I treasure my own autographed copy.)

Along with images of people in the demi-monde of underground LA culture, and his ongoing hunk-muse, actor-model-friend Tony Ward, Castro includes two photos of a muscular nude man standing atop a rocky outcropping. In one photo he uses a crutch and we see his thinned left left, without a foot or calf muscles.

On the opposite page, the man, still fully nude, appears to stand on his foot and stump, sweaty armpit and glistening muscles proudly displayed. This was one of the first times I saw a nude male image that not only declared difference, but embodied the hunk portraiture of any other popular style. I chose not to show the images here, because censoring it would just be stupid, and this isn't an "adult" blog. But the same hunk is on the cover, with his left leg discreetly hidden.

While Castro's work focuses on alternative culture, that still leaves a broad spectrum of subjects, discussed and visualized on his diverse and strangely sexy blog 

For the non-disabled, our sexualization of disabled people can be considered suspect. Are we voyeurs? Empathetic outsiders? Curious kinksters? Politically correct objectifiers? While intentions may come from a good place, the main result of this new inclusive eroticism remains in the traditional frame, specifically in LGBT media and advertising: If he or she is cute, we'll provide images for you to gaze at, to wonder about.

But in our gaze, we forget the possibility that veterans like Minsky may have taken up modeling out of necessity. When Senate Republicans, in their ongoing hypocritical cruelty, block a vote to increase disabled veterans cost of living payments, it should be no surprise that veterans will use whatever else they have, including their beauty, to pay the bills.

What does any of this have to do with my novel Every Time I Think of You, and my work on its sequel? Well, a lot. I'm considering what to write and what not to write. Reviews of the book have consistently noted the balance of erotic and realistic intimacy between the main characters, one of whom becomes a paraplegic.

I'm glad, and relieved, that I was able to accomplish that. But as the couple's life continues, how will they handle objectification, disdain and curiosity from others while they're still trying to figure out their own life together? The mainstream sex symbol-ization of disabled men hadn't occured at the time the books are set. So, while I have to think about this stuff, I also have to un-think it.

1 comment:

  1. From Perry Brass, who asked me to post this for him:

    Thank you for this piece, Jim.

    I think that having models like Alex Minsky as objects of gay "gaze" is part of an amazing evolution of queer consciousness: when I first came out into the gay world, back in the mid-1960s, pre-Stonewall, there was nothing like this, and nothing like this could even be understood.

    Post-AIDS, we can see an incredible and exalting range of human beauty—Alex Minsky is attractive, but he is also genuinely disabled, and has to live with this disability.

    Having had a disabled lover when I was 19, again back pre-Stonewall, I remember the sheer revulsion other gays had toward him: that he was an amputee really bothered them. It could not be talked about without revulsion.

    So, as they say, we have come a long way, baby.

    Perry Brass, author of King of Angels, A Novel About the Genesis of Identity and Belief.

    Perry Brass