Showing posts with label FalseGay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FalseGay. Show all posts

April 10, 2020

Duckling To Swan and No More Ducklings! This is Become Toxic in The Gay Community

Often masked as promoting 'wellness', ugly duckling-to-swan narratives are wreaking havoc on the self-esteem of young gay men today.

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Culture has long been fixated on the before and the after -- on extreme beast-turned-beauty makeovers and radical duckling-to-swan transformations. Between the F45 '8 Week Challenge' testimonialsFacebook's 10-year challenge, 'feel old yet?' memes and American television's near 20 seasons of The Biggest Loser, ours is a world obsessed with achieving our ultimate form. When it comes to beauty, no narrative appears to quite satisfy us like the emergence of a buried charm; a conventionally attractive aesthetic lurking underneath a supposedly base and ugly original form, just waiting to be discovered. In other words, we fucking love the glo-up.

The glo-up has ignited the imagination of popular culture for time immemorial. You only need to look to giants of Western canon such as Pygmalion and Princess Diaries -- the latter with its now-unforgettable reveal: "Only Paolo can take this and this and give you… a princess!"Hidden amid an 80s-style backcombed mane, overgrown eyebrows and nerdy glasses, was Princess Mia's 'true' and 'beautiful' self. Mean Girls inverts this trope when Janis Ian, via clever and nefarious means, wages war on high school bully and queen of teen society Regina George's "technically good physique" -- aka her "hot body" -- and all which is constellated around it. The sum total of which was an incredibly valuable social capital she wielded to rule those shallow, hallowed hierarchical halls.
It comes as no surprise then that gay men are so invested in the cocooning phenomenon of the glo-up. Between early years of a society-mandated closet, school bullying, and a position at the bottom of the high school food chain -- the best revenge would be the acculturation of hotness and social capital. There's a reason why so many glo-up anecdotes inevitably reference school bullies
The glo-up is sneakily insidious. Why? Because it frames our shallow fixation with aesthetics -- and extreme aesthetic transformation -- as wellness. In many ways, glo-up culture has co-opted the tropes of the body positivity and fat-acceptance movements, with its toxic philosophy often cloaked in the language of taking action to 'love the skin you're in!' But the reality is that glo-up is the most shallow kind of wellbeing phenomenon. It does nothing to disrupt existing hegemonies of beauty -- ones that are fuelled by and propped up by racism and ableism -- nor does it dismantle the system that rewards conformity.  
Our unhealthy, all-consuming gay-male veneration of aesthetic hypermasculinity -- of impossibly rippling torsos and sub 10% body fat composition -- has been the subject of much investigation and theory. The rise in muscle-gay aesthetic is often understood as a collectively traumatic response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, a body -- and a body politic -- developed as evidence of health, as a rage against the literal waning of a community. Now it exists as a pervasive cultural artefact. Not simple adherence to vanity, but a complex, hypervigilant relation to image and masculinity, from a community who were so often picked apart for failing to successfully conform to both. But whatever its origins, our cultural fixation on the perfect body continues to endure and impact our collective psyche in a number of harmful ways. The science tells us what many of us anecdotally and instinctively already know to be true. As summarised in this paragraph from a recent psychology paper, "research [indicates] that gay men are at greater risk than heterosexual men for developing eating disorders and have a higher incidence of drive for thinness, body dissatisfaction, and body image related anxiety." 
"The reality is that glo-up is the most shallow kind of wellbeing phenomenon. It does nothing to disrupt existing hegemonies of beauty – ones that are fuelled by and propped up by racism and ableism – nor does it dismantle the system that rewards conformity."  
David, a gay academic in his late 20s, had always had a difficult relationship with his body pre muscle glo-up. He describes a childhood where he was "bullied for being ugly and camp and girly", and the subsequent disordered eating and body shame that continued into his adult life. "When I overcame my disordered eating, which took a long time, I started to hate my body even more. I just felt I had lost control over it and I felt wrong. I fell into a depression over it," he says. "It got very bad. If I was out in public and I saw men with bodies I wanted -- which were always muscular, toned, big, everything I had never allowed myself to be when I had spent years making myself thin and tiny -- I would become horribly sad."
When I speak to Kush, a 27-year-old musician and employee of a boutique fitness studio, he offers up this perspective on the gay male glo-up: "I find it intriguing that for a community where we constantly say we celebrate being different, we have slowly all moulded in to the same [person].' For Kush, the predominant images and aesthetic values of gay culture have weighed heavily on his self-esteem. 'Being a brown boy it’s been engraved in me that I will always come second to a blond twink or a muscly Clapham gay stereotype.”
Brandon is a 23-year-old London gay man who has spent the last couple of years relentlessly and methodically transforming his body from twink physique into muscular temple. His journey began as a result of criticism he received from a casual hookup, who said when he took his top off for sex that "[he] just thought [he'd] be more toned.” The resulting anguish set Brandon on a near-obsessive gym craze. "Part of me wanted to smack that guy into the next decade but the other half of me wanted to cry. And at the time I was 18 and thought I was hot shit so it felt like a smack in the face. After that I went on a huge revenge body vendetta because I wanted to make this guy so jealous that I was now muscular," he says. 
Perhaps nowhere is the new found thirst bestowed by a glo-up more stark and pronounced than in the case of reigning YouTube twink Tyler Oakley's metamorphosis into mini muscle daddy. 
Responses ranged from the truly chaotic--"tyler im sorry i said you were so annoying please.... im 18 im free on tuesday are u free on tuesday please text me and let me know if you want to hang out on thursday when i am free" to "tyler CHOKE-ME OAKLEY!!!!" Essentially offering him a lifetime’s supply of the standard hypersexual thirst his image had largely denied him in previous years.
These transformations are rewarded like clockwork. Most who come up against the culture and its impossible standards are strong-armed into conforming. Both Brandon and David acknowledge what is perhaps an obvious point -- evidenced so clearly here with Tyler Oakley: that for them changing musculature corresponded with radically shifted status and greater sexual capital and visibility within the gay community. The implicit message broadcast being that it isn't the standard that is broken, but rather the individual who fails it. This might seem like a shallow game with little real world consequence, but the simple fact is that, much like being “straight-passing”, respect, safety, success and a myriad other prizes and resources, are often apportioned according to these very hierarchies both in the LGBT+ community and beyond. The message relentlessly sent is that what waits for you on the other side of your glo-up is worth it and no cost is too high to pay. Fad dieting, steroid use and plastic surgery are all encouraged. 
But the glo-up is not just a newfound hotness. More than simply a finished product, the glo-up is hotness with provenance. The likes and comments and shares it engenders come not just simply from the hotness, but from the contrast. The first image --literal or otherwise-- serves as a kind of foil, to heighten the perceived success of the transformation. No matter claims to the contrary, the glo-up does not accept a continuum of beauty. So at the heart of the problem with the glo-up, is that it posits the untransformed body and the person attached to it as ugly, unappealing, unfinished -- take your pick -- and the transformed body as living their very best life. They are now worthy of your praise, fame, engagement, free underwear subscriptions, and a world of endless accolade and possibility, despite being the exact same person beneath the surface. 
The sinister belief that seems to underlie this and every 90s/00s romcom transformation, is that love is just around the corner, should we make that bold leap to become beautiful. The 'before' is as, if not more important, than the 'after'. The glo-up is the American dream writ across the human body: an ideology that says one can rise from the rags of their 'unattractive' birth to the riches of beauty -- if only by drastic reinvention. As with these films, and real life, unconventional looks and imperfection is permissible, as long as they are temporary -- a bridge between ugly duckling and Instagram selfie-swan. This pressure creates a positive feedback loop that sustains this endlessly dysmorphic culture. A culture that maintains at its core that there is only one kind of external fitness magazine 'beauty' worth having and striving for, and encourages us to take the most extreme lengths to achieve it.  
Transformation always exacts a cost, and those metamorphoses mandated by dominant paradigms of beauty, motivated by a desire to be sexy by the standards of gay media and community, often demand the highest. I ask Kush what would have to change to quash his desire to conform, for him to be happy to live in his body the way that it is. “For more people of different sizes cast as leading men,” he says, and for social media's renewed emphasis to be less about vanity and more about creation. “I want us to see people of all shapes and types being the desired ones in our media.” This is not intended to be moralising, nor place the onus on individual action; people are entitled to take whatever steps in their personal lives, meaningful or banal, that make them feel beautiful. But gay glo-up culture sells a toxic fantasy, underpinned by the belief that we are not enough until we are perfected adonises. A narrative that traps some people in a vicious, unrelenting and often dangerous pursuit of the perfect body. I want a kinder culture, to be freed from the draconian pageantry. No crowns, no runners-up. Don't you want that too?

June 10, 2015

False Gay Characters on TV are Toxic


One-dimensional uber-camp clowns, storylines centred on “being gay”, potential sexual menaces who want to get into the pants of straight men, lesbians whose sexuality makes them a challenge for men to turn: here are how LGBT characters often appear on our screens. But that’s if they even appear at all. According to a new study by Glaad – which campaigns for LGBT representation in the media – there has been a small increase in films with LGBT characters, but from a low base. Out of 114 films they looked at, released in 2014, 17.5% featured non-straight characters, up from 16.7% the year before. Many of these depictions were problematic, with only just over half passing the “Vito Russo test”, which measures the quality of the representations. (A film only passes the Vito Russo test if it includes a LGBT character, where they are not entirely defined by their sexual orientation or gender, and they have a significant impact on the plot.)
Take Get Hard, the new so-called “comedy” starring Will Ferrell, which taps into the revulsion of some straight men at the very idea of gay sex. The release of such films is a salutary experience for many LGBT people. Look how far we have come, we often rightly think: the overturning of anti-LGBT laws across the western world, the transformation of once overwhelmingly hostile public opinions. And then, in 2015, it is still acceptable to release a film that taps into the very much still present fears and prejudices that many have about LGBT people.
With trans people, the situation is even worse. Attitudes towards trans people are stuck roughly where they were for gay men back in the 1980s: a toxic rhetoric of disgust abounds, with a frightening prejudice that trans people are sexual predators who will somehow trick the unassuming into having sex with them. As well as facing violence – sometimes murder – there are still legislative attempts to oppress and stigmatise them, like a bill submitted by a rightwing Miami Republican to ban trans people from using public toilets. And according to Glaad, there are all too few films featuring trans people. The need to show the reality of life for trans people is surely desperately needed.
Let’s face it: representation of LGBT people on our screens is comparable to how it was for those one-dimensional, insulting portrayals of black people that used to be so widespread in mainstream popular culture. Not that I’m saying that battle has been won either: Lenny Henry has been leading a campaign to tackle the lack of black and minority people in the entire media industry. The entertainment industry remains institutionally racist. But many gay writers have suggested that the portrayal of gay characters is sometimes analogous to those old minstrel shows, which are now rightly seen as unacceptable. Silly, cardboard cut-out gay men, comically mincing around for our general amusement.

Both TV and film reflect society’s general attitudes, but they also help reinforce them. More nuanced and complex takes on LGBT life are all too often ghettoised with shows such as Cucumber and Banana. A character being gay is often a storyline in and of itself: surely we need characters who simply happen to be gay, rather than being defined by it. Yes, some men are camp – loudly and proudly so – and all of us need to get over that. But others are football-obsessed, or metalheads, or any other repudiation of the pervasive stereotypes that exist. Some are bisexuals, facing prejudice from all sides and airbrushed out of existence. Orange is the New Black, with its mostly lesbian characters, has rightly won accolades and awards, but how often are lesbians otherwise portrayed on our screens?
LGBT people are as complex and varied as anybody else. They are still all too often invisible on our screens, and portrayed simplistically and problematically when they do appear. That will only change when we overcome the general prejudices in society that still exist. But that’s not an excuse. The films and TV shows of today will surely provoke bafflement in the future: “Where are all the realistic gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people?” they will ask. It will be a good question.
For decades Hollywood’s record of portraying gay characters on screen has been far from admirable, often falling into toxic stereotypes. But if that pattern appeared to have been altered by films such as Brokeback Mountain, Milk and Dallas Buyers Club, the industry has this week been accused of taking a step backwards with a blockbuster comedy described by some as an “ugly” example of homophobia.
Get Hard, a comedy starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart and released in UK cinemas on Saturday, follows a disgraced investment banker who is headed to prison in 30 days and enlists the help of a car-washer to help him prepare. What follows is 90 minutes of farcical comedy, built mainly around Ferrell’s fear of being raped while in prison and a general disgust at the concept of gay sex. During one scene, where Ferrell is taken to a “gay brunch spot”, Hart declares it will be easy to approach a gay stranger for sex, because “that’s what they do”. 
It is a movie that has prompted a wave of disgust from critics, who have accused the pervasive derogatory stereotypes of both sexuality and race as crossing the line from controversial humour to simply being offensive. Variety called it “the ugliest gay-panic humour to befoul a studio release in recent memory” while the Guardian’s Alex Needham wrote “I suspect that in years to come, media studies students will watch this film and be astonished that such a negative portrayal of homosexuality persisted in the mainstream in 2015.”
While the balanced treatment of sexuality in Hollywood is still considered be well behind that of both race and gender, recent moves in the industry have been perceived as a slow turning of the tide. Independence Day 2, which is due out next year, will feature a gay couple - an unusual move for a blockbuster. Speaking about the film director Roland Emmerich said: “We don’t make a big deal out of it. You start small and then you get bigger and bigger and bigger, and one day you have a gay character as the lead and nobody will wonder at it any more. But we’re not there yet.”
Recent research into Hollywood’s portrayal of gay characters found that only 17 of the 102 movies from major studios in 2013 featured lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters and, of those 17, the majority were offensive and defamatory portrayals. The statistics, compiled by campaigning organisation GLAAD, suggested that large Hollywood studios may still be doing more harm than good when it comes to worldwide understanding of the LGBT community. Not a single film released by the major studios that year had gay character in the lead role.  
Speaking to the Guardian, Telegraph film critic Tim Robey, who himself is gay, said that Get Hard proved the industry had not moved on from its troubling and derogatory past.  
“What’s troubling isn’t the premise that a straight man might be stricken by rape-anxiety before going to jail, but the crass and bludgeoning way it’s handled,” he said. “It’s very specifically presented as the Ferrell character’s fear of being raped by black men, for starters. But the joke curdles really badly when the film tries to bring gay characters on screen to back it up. The sequence at the ‘flirty’ brunch hangout, a low point in the whole movie, feels horribly backward, like the kind of thing you might expect to find in the 1980 Al Pacino film Cruising.”
He added: “There are ways to use homophobia in comic contexts which riff and evolve and wind up transcending it... Get Hard doesn’t dare get anywhere near this territory – it keeps pummelling you with the most regressive and fearful view of gay sex possible.” 
The criticisms have prompted the cast and crew of Get Hard this week to jump to the defence of the film. 
“The truth was that this was a really delicate balance. We wanted to think about stereotypes but not go too far,” the director Etan Cohen said earlier this month. 
Both Hart and Ferrell have also said that pushing boundaries with comedy is a way to challenge people’s prejudices. “The trick to keeping it funny is not being afraid to push the envelope,” Hart told the Associated Press. “At the end of the day, stereotyping is a situation a lot of people are guilty of, including myself. Until you know someone, it’s unfair to judge that book by its cover.” 
“We provoke. We prod. We also show a mirror to what’s already existing out there,” added Ferrell. “We’re playing fictitious characters who are articulating some of the attitudes and misconceptions that already exist.”
However Richard Barrios, author of Screened Out: Playing Gay in Hollywood, said that the film showed that Hollywood would continue to pander to the lowest common denominator as long as the industry can get away with it. Despite the critical reviews, the film is expected to take $40m at the US box office alone. 
“I’m sadly very familiar with the aesthetic that drives this film,” Burrios said. “Hollywood will always pay lip service to the gay community but when it comes down to the bottom line, they are still going to dredge up those old derogatory tropes and stereotypes. Gay panic is one thing and rape jokes are another and to put these two things together is especially pathetic on the part of the studio. This takes us back to the days of Eddie Murphy and those were not happy days as far as homophobic jokes were concerned.” 
He added: “They can’t do it so much with racial jokes or gender roles or demeaning women because they will get called on that, but they still feel they can get away with it where sexuality is concerned. I think a long time ago television passed up movies in terms of a reasonable and balanced portrayal of gay characters. Things have got a little bit better but in a big budget, R rated film with a younger target audience, that will be the last bastion of homophobia. As long as they can get away with it they will do it. It’s really sad but completely unsurprising.”

LGBT charity Stonewall also condemned the content in films such as Get Hard as damaging. “Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language is endemic in Britain, particularly within our schools,” it said in a statement. “This kind of ‘banter’ that people see in Hollywood films and on-screen perpetuates the idea that this kind of language is acceptable.”
However Dr Andrew Moor, who specialises in the relationship between Hollywood and homosexuality, was unconvinced Get Hard offered any lasting damage. “Sure, it peddles lazy clichés about homosexuality and has tired old stereotypes, and yes that can be offensive,” he said. “LGBT culture has campaigned against toxic representation for so so long now, and it’s still important....I’m not sure a piece of throwaway pop like this is worthy of any big campaign though.”

Key moments for LGBT cinema

  • The Boys in the Band: Adapted from the play, this critically acclaimed 1970 film is set at a party in New York and was one of the first pieces of cinema to revolve around gay characters.
  • Parting Glances: Shot in 1984 , it examines urban gay life during the Reagan era. The plot revolves around a gay couple and was one of the first films to address the HIV/Aids pandemic.
  • Philadelphia: This 1993 film is seen as a turning point for Hollywood’s portrayal of Aids and the gay community. The film starred Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks, who played a gay lawyer suffering from Aids.
  • Brokeback Mountain: Ang Lee’s moving drama about a two-decade love affair between cowboys won three Oscars in 2006 and was widely praised for its unique portrayal of a gay relationship.
  • Milk: Sean Penn won the Oscar in 2008 for his portrayal of Harvey Milk in this biopic of the first openly gay politician in California who campaigned for gay rights and was assassinated in 1978.
  • Dallas Buyers Club: Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto both won Oscars in 2014 for their portrayals of a homophobic Texan cowboy and a drug-addicted trans woman who develop a friendship after they contract Aids.
  • The Guardian

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