I don't remember where, but about a year ago, I came across the blog naked men, happy women and added it to my reader.
I guess because it's a blog tending toward arty photos that could be praised as "erotica," it seemed more innocent and safe than certain other kinds of sites that publish photos of naked people, some of whom are doing stuff to other naked people. But at some point I realized that the images on it could be considered porn--and probably would be by most of the people I grew up knowing. Does finding one photo of a naked or nearly naked guy in your google reader once a week constitute a porn habit? It's a regular thing, but it's not exactly excessive or anything, is it?
As someone who has generally avoided porn (though of course I've seen a few movies here and there on late-night cable) both because of my upbringing and because, I don't know, I'd just rather have sex than watch it, I guess, I've actually found it educating and enlightening to have a post from NMHW show up every week or so n my reader.
Because as I say, at some point it occurred to me that I could technically be said to have a porn habit. But it wasn't like I was sitting around waiting for another image to be posted, wondering when I'd get to see another naked guy. I didn't actually think about the blog until/unless an entry showed up in my reader. But I was always glad when one did. I admit that I especially liked this week's photo, which showed up this morning. Very nice.
The weekly or so photo reminded me that I like men and I like sex, regardless of how often I have it. Sometimes that's a really good thing to remember, as is the fact that feeling desire and arousal just for their own sake can feel really nice. You don't have to satisfy every craving you have.
(Bit of an aside: I liked the site well enough that I recommended it to a friend of mine who attends BYU, who also added it to her reader. She reported happily to me that an easy way to get past BYU's rigorous internet filters is to have the site you want to visit in a reader--you can sit at a BYU computer and scroll though photo after photo of naked people.)
But today I got two entries from NMHW, and the second one is even better than the photo. It's a link to an article by Hugo Schwyzer entitled "The Male Body: Repulsive or Beautiful?"
Read it. It's great.
I just posted the link on Facebook and two gay Mormon men commented. One agreed with Schwyzer's point and the other dismissed it out of hand, adding that he not only didn't believe Schwyzer's analysis, he also thought Schwyzer was a closet case. He even challenged my status as a straight feminist for accepting Schwyzer's nonsense argument. Apparently the only reason to be a feminist is because one objects to the fact that the female body is depicted in western culture as unclean. It's not possible that women are taught that bodies, both male and female (not to mention transgendered or intersexed) are unclean, all of them, or that feminists might object to that view of sexuality.
And of course the guy who thinks I'm not really a feminist is right to be incredulous about Schwyzer's claim that men are told their bodies aren't beautiful. Why, our entire society reinforces the beauty of men! Girls are NEVER told that while they might like seeing a guy without a shirt on, that's as far as they really want to go in checking out the male body. Girls have never been told that they can tolerate rather than enjoy the fat that men have these strange angular bodies with bits on the outside. They're never told that If they do like men's bodies, well, then we're really, REALLY DIRTY, because men's bodies are made to desire, not to be desired.
In fact, the guy eventually demanded, "Where can we look and see a male body, even in its dirtiness labeled unclean and unattractive?"
Well, try Seinfeld for starters.
Elaine: "Whoa! Walking around naked? Ahh... that is not a good look for a man."
George: "Why not? It's a good look for a woman."
Elaine: "Well, the female body is a... work of art. The male body is utilitarian, it's for gettin' around, like a jeep."
Jerry: "So you don't think it's attractive?"
Elaine: "It's hideous. The hair, the... the lumpiness. It's simian."
George: "Well, some women like it."
Elaine: "Hmm. Sickies."
Got that? Some women like men who walk around naked, and some people think women who like naked men are sickies.
Furthermore, enough people think that the male body is "hideous" and that women weird enough to like are "sickies" that plenty of men have absorbed the message, "Hey, dude, from the neck down, you're UGLY!" Seriously: neither the writers of Seinfeld nor Hugo Schwyzer made this up.
Last week I hung out with a friend who is a MtF transsexual, and a lesbian. We were talking about sex, and she mentioned that she can make out with men, but she'll only do it if they're completely clean-shaven--she can't bear any stubble. "Ooh, I love kissing men with stubble!" I said. "OK, not so much that your face gets rubbed raw, but just a little--it's so nice to have the smooth wetness of a mouth and tongue contrasting with the dry roughness of the beginning of a beard."
She looked at me a moment. "You really are straight, aren't you," she said.
"I really am," I agreed.
I've always known that I'm attracted to men, but I can't say I've always known what to do about it, or how to feel about my desires or myself for what I desire. It was especially hard while I was still a practicing Mormon. I wrote once:
Men in the Church, I was told often enough, were in authority over me; I should not try to be on an equal level with them. Consequently I saw most men as misshapen, stunted creatures, some of whom one could be romantically attracted to, some of whom one must try to obey despite their failings; none of whom could demand from me the mutual respect and understanding I felt ought to exist between me and other women, who were my equals.
To summarize: Mormonism gave me the message that the only things I could do with men are A) fall in love with and B) obey them. Trust them? No. Respect them? No. Desire them? HELL no, though if I loved one enough, I could let him and only him desire me, and I would just lie back and think of the celestial kingdom, to paraphrase the advice supposedly given to Victorian women about how to deal with sex.
But I do desire men, and I do find them beautiful, and I do appreciate their bodies--even down to the way their faces grow hair, and I can live with the fact that their bodies don't always perform as expected. Since leaving Mormonism, I also like, trust and respect them far more than I did when I was active. This is partly because I honestly think men who aren't practicing Mormons are often nicer guys than men who are, and also because I'm not expected to hold certain really unhealthy ideas about gender.
All of which are among the reasons I am not just a feminist, but a Mormon feminist: because the particularly insidious view of sex and desire I was given is something I feel an obligation to expose, counter and correct.
ETA: Before deleting his entire Facebook account (something he does every so often) or not just unfriending but blocking me from even seeing his profile, the guy came back and asked, "Why would the 'Beauty and the Beast' construct have such a strong hold on all of us if Schwyzer's premise is generalizable?"
Which made me feel better, frankly, that he is no longer part of my Facebook experience, because it's just so damn obtuse, and actually supports Schwyzer's argument.
After all, Beauty and the Beast is a story in which a woman somehow manages to love a smelly, hairy, repulsive beast who KNOWS he's smelly, hairy and repulsive, no matter how great his collection of brocade vests and velvet trousers. She doesn't desire him; she just LOVES him. She somehow looks past his smelliness, his hairiness, his repulsiveness, and finds some element of soul, not body, she can find beautiful, and love.
The fact that he then becomes less smelly, less hairy and less repulsive is a little reward for both of them. But the story already established the roles of woman and man: she is beauty, he is beast--even if there's a beautiful soul trapped inside that hideous body.
How would it help Western ideas about sexuality and the people exposed to them to stop portraying men as stinky beasts and women as pure creatures who love men despite their grossness?