“I am going to be discussing various forms of representations of gay men, using examples from film and photography. Before moving on to discuss issues surrounding representations within contemporary society.
Firstly I would like to discuss this piece of work by Duane Michals. I’ll read out the piece of text he wrote beneath the image.
“The unfortunate man could not touch the one he loved. It had been declared illegal by the law. Slowly his fingers became toes and his hands gradually became feet. He began to wear shoes on his hands to disguise his pain. It never occurred to him to break the law.”
Michals talks about the message he is attempting to deliver with this image at the Leslie + Lohman museum. That message is to not let people define you, because if you do you will never be free. Not to let the law, the church or the public, define you, or else you’re going to be forever limited to these ideas others have of you.
This is a message I want you to keep in mind throughout the talk, because I am going to keep referring back to it, as it is what I think each of the examples I am talking about are ultimately achieving.
Charles Hawtrey, most famous for his appearance in the ‘Carry On’ films. Plays a very over exaggerated typical stereotype of a gay man at the time of the 1950’s/60’s. His effeminate mannerisms remain a constant throughout all the roles he plays, even the heterosexual characters he plays.
In the film ‘Sergeant’ he plays an army recruit. The army attempt to make a man out of him. His flamboyant character over exaggerates any attempts at masculine values in the army. Showing them to be ridiculously stiff and rigid.
This as a result mocked the heterosexual definitions and ideas of what a man should be.
Around the same era another actor began to reframe peoples understanding of the masculine and the gay man. Rock Hudson, an American actor, often featuring in romantic comedies embodied the ideal heterosexual man. With all the masculine traits woman loved and men styled themselves off.
It came as a shock then that he was gay. People believed characters such as Charles Hawtrey were gay not Hudson, he was too heterosexual.
This shock was reinforced by media coverage of the time. Papers released headlines such as ‘Secret Torment of Baron of the Beefcake.’ And ‘Rock Hudson’s Jeckyll and Hyde existence’.
So this representation within film shows how ideas of gay men have been challenged before. It told people they didn’t have to conform to the narrow minded expectations of others.
Moving onto around the late 80’s there was the aids epidemic. From the start gay men were quickly associated with the disease.
“Our homophobic culture produced an illness which was restricted to the (homosexual) body and it’s engagement in deviant sex”
This association between the homosexual body and aids was so strong they conflated into one. Visual representations only strengthened this connection often featuring gay men as victims. This is exemplified in Nicholas Nixons body of work ‘People with aids’
This work gave aids a body, an image, that showed victims, such as the gay men in these images as weak and defenseless.
These portraits individualized the disease, made these suffering subjects the face of aids. It didn’t appear that it could affect anyone, just these people. They became portrayed as ill outcasts, stigmatized for their illness.
The artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres challenged this association.
In 1992 this photograph was exhibited in the museum of modern art in New York. Simultaneously the photograph was mounted on 24 billboards throughout the city.
These billboards would appear rather ambiguous to pedestrians passing by. With no context or knowledge of the artist they’re left with what the image signifies to construct meaning.
A bed with impressions left in the pillows suggests the absence of a body, signifying loss or even death.
The photograph was a memorial to the artists partner, who died from aids in 1991.
With this knowledge the image becomes a depiction of aids. But it does something different from the usual depictions. Aids has no body to associate with here, instead it just has the grief and loss suggested in this picture to associate with.
The artist had refused the definition that gay men and aids were one and began to break the link that joined them.
Looking at representations today we see several in TV & film but there appears to be a lack within the sporting world.
23 out of 14,690 athletes in the London Olympics were openly gay.
An improvement on the 10 in Beijing.
The 23 made up 0.16% of athletes in London. Considering 6% of the population are estimated to be gay this suggests there are a lack of participants from the LGB (standing from Lesbian Gay Bisexual) community or not everyone is openly gay.
This lack of gay people in sport isn’t surprising if we look at this term “orthodox Masculinity”
“The principle conditions are that one be heterosexual and hyper masculine. This combination is so strong that heterosexuality and masculinity are deemed synonymous; cultural conflation that Progner (1990) calls heteromasculinity”
and so what this theory of masculinity suggests is that sport has been used to promote male dominance over woman. It gave the opportunity to demonstrate strength and violence. The competitive nature of sport was used to justify social dominance.
This process of gaining male dominance can only work when women and gay men are excluded from participating. As heterosexual men wouldn’t have ‘proof’ with sport as being superior.
Stonewall a leading charity fro the LGB community conducted a report of views from LGB’s about sport.
The participants views in this report were that sport is a way for boys to express masculinity because it is “macho”. They also make direct associations between football and rugby as being ‘masculine’ and for straight men. Stonewall believed these views can be tackled by a
“A more diverse experience of sport at a young age could challenge existing stereotypes and encourage a broader range of people to play sport”
“Their participation could be increased if there were a stronger presence of LGB role models in grassroots and high-profile sports”
So looking into football specifically I found that in 2012 there were no openly gay men in football in England’s top 4 divisions.
Recently Thomas Hitzlsperger former player for Aston Villa came out not long after retiring.
A similar story happened with Robbie Rodgers, who announced he was gay after retiring from Leeds.”
These footballers believe there are certain fears about being openly gay within sports, such as football. These fears are that it could jeopardise sponsorship deals and their abilities could be questioned from fans/ coaches and team mates.
It appears, at least to me, there is this stigma for gay men within sport. Because of these rigid ideas of sexual orientation and gender. As well as a lack of representation.
Representation that stonewall believes could work, as various other representations have worked previously.
As we’ve seen before representations can work in altering perceptions.”
I found producing a proposal towards the start of the project to be incredibly valuable. It began to really make me reflect upon the issues I was exploring and identify objectives for my research project. This is what led me to pursue looking into visual representations and the effects they had.
Although it began to become clearer where the project was headed I did need to seek guidance from other people to find appropriate material to research. This is what led me to have a tutorial with Anthony Luvera, after discovering the current project he was working on, which was the representation of the LGB community in Brighton. Not only did he provide me with a very useful list of artists to research into, the conversation I had with him was very encouraging and inspiring, making me more passionate about the project. I discovered from this tutorial that I can really benefit from talking to like minded people that were also interested in the subject. Not only are they likely to recommend potential avenues to take the project, it makes the research I am doing seem much more worth while, inspiring me to carry on.
Now having had gained a whole range of research and knowledge about my topic it came closer to the presentation date. Having to start to put together a presentation was also very useful in formulating an argument and conclusion from the research I had already gathered. Before this point I had numerous resources with no solid argument that linked them together, but when it came to writing my script this became much clearer.
Also by only having 10 minutes to discuss my project, this made me really think about the key points coming from each piece of research. Having gone into detail about them on this blog, I had to create condensed summaries about each one. This was a challenge, yet incredibly useful in realising what the research was about, and what the conclusion was going to be.
I believe the presentation itself went well, due to rehearsing and having a solid understanding of the content in the talk. Being passionate about the topic helped with the delivery and is something I hoped would make the talk more engaging. I am pleased with how I structured it, having considered it from an audiences point of view I thought of breaking it down into sections, in order to make it more digestible.
Overall I am pleased with the stage I am at with this project. I have discovered practitioners work relevant to my project, which will inspire me in my own practice. I have also identified current issues for me to carry on exploring. Due to this research project I have been able to identify clear objectives and ambitions for my future practice.
Adams, A. Anderson, E. McCormack, M. (2010). Establishing andChallenging Masculinity:The Influence of Gendered Discoursesin Organized Sport. Journal of Language and Social Psychology. 29 (3), p279-300.
Anon. (2013). Duane Michals: I Am Gay. [online] available from <http://vimeo.com/75599494> [9 Feb 2014]
Anon. (2013b). ‘Robbie Rodgers: Ex-Leeds United and USA Winger Reals He Is Gay’ [online] available from <http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/21479520> [28 Feb 2014]
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Dyer, R. (2002). ‘Rock: the last guy you’d have figured?’. in The Culture of Queers. London: Routledge. p168-183.
Edwards, T (1994). Erotics & Politics: Gay Male Sexuality, Masculinity and Feminism. London: Routledge. Unknown.
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Pierce, A. (2013). ‘Why so many sports stars are terrified to admit they’re gay’. The Daily Mail [online] available from <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2517827/Why-sports-stars-terrified-come-gay.html.> [27 Jan 2014]
Stonewall. (2009). ‘Leagues Behind- Football’s Failure To Tackle Anti-Gay Abuse’. Kick It Off [online] available from <http://www.kickitout.org/files/1eb24eb6-/Leagues%20Behind.pdf.> [27 Jan 2014]
Stonewall. (2012). ‘Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) People in Sport: Understanding LGB sports participation in Wales’. Stonewall [online] available from <http://www.stonewall.org.uk/documents/lgb_people_in_sport.pdf.> [28 Feb 2014]
The Hollywood Reporter. (2013) Dustin Lance Black and Chad Griffin on Marriage Equality and Hollywood [online] available from <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVJ2OGGejC8> [5 Feb 2014]
Ziegler, M. (2014). ‘Graeme Le Saux’s Support for Thomas Hitzlsperger’. The Belfast Telegraph [online] available from <http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sport/football/graeme-le-sauxs-support-for-thomas-hitzlsperger-29903386.html> [28 Feb 2014]
Brown, D. Barret, M. Houston, D. Millward, L. (Unknown). ‘Young People’s Job Perceptions and Preferences’. DTI [online] available from <http://www.dti.gov.uk/files/file28575.pdf.> [23 Jan 2014]
Dyer, R. (2002). ‘It’s Being So Camp As Keeps Us Going’. in The Culture of Queers. London: Routledge. p58-71.
Edwards, T. (1994). ‘Sado-Masochism, Masculinity and Male Dominance’. in Erotics & Politics: Gay Male Sexuality, Masculinity and Feminism. London: Routledge. Chapter 4.
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