Hetero-Normativity and the Projection of Sexual Identity
Reading an article in the Globe Arts Section today by Lynn Crosbie, entitled “Leave Tom Cruise Alone”, it brought to mind some questions for me as to the quality of the gaze in North American cinema and television and the definition of a homosexual persona.
Crosbie’s article lists a number of example of Cruise’s movie titles and the nature of the gaze in each of these films as a sort of investigation in response to public interest in his sexuality. Items that she includes as possible proof are the focus on his ass and usage of phallic objects in the movie Risky Business and the shower scene in Top Gun.
These scenes, in and of themselves, are far from proof of his sexual identity. Furthermore, what is really in question here would seem to be the interest as expressed by the eye of the camera, not the sexual identity of Cruise himself. It is through the director’s usage of the camera’s focus that attention is paid, whether sexual or otherwise.
It seems to suggest that in the hyper-sexualized-spectacle of western culture, something as simple as observing and expressing male sensuality can become an act of homosexuality and certainly in the more conservative circles, a perversion.
When it becomes de-naturalized for men to dance in a sexual manner, to be around each other while nude or to in any way express affection for each other, we limit the range of the masculine persona to act in a human fashion towards other men, putting an extreme amount of pressure for those men who want to be perceived as masculine to suppress a great many of their natural inclinations.
With the greater acceptance of homosexual desire comes, for some, a greater discomfort with the murky reality of sensuality, closeness and sexual desire. People are not definitions and as such, despite what a person may feel comfortable with in terms of sexual choice, there may be occasions where a person experiences even the briefest of moments of sensual appreciation.
Mirror neurons are those things that aid human beings in their compassionate understanding of the experience of another. When watching another man enact a sensual action, one cannot help but experience the sensuality of that act through the observation of it. That however, in and of itself, does not make a person gay. Sexual preference is something that a person must declare and own. It is not something that can be thrust on someone, no matter what someone else’s perception of that person may be.
Women’s social nature seems to be a lot more flexible towards interacting with other women in a sensual fashion without fear of reprise. In fact, it often seems to highlight a woman’s femininity when that woman can express gentle, sensuality towards her friends and loved ones. It is understood that there are different forms of appreciation, different forms of touch and the only thing that makes a person gay is their declaration.
The requirement for male hetero-sexuality is quite steep indeed, if it means that in order to be able to declare oneself as a hetero-sexual, that man must have suppressed every and all sensually charged thought, feeling or experience that relates to another man’s body. Only then can the uber-masculine man be free of the scourge of gay-association.
It is as though, the mere expression of inner sensuality, exists as a form of non-consensual sex act. Through the exposure of oneself to otherwise sexually repressed men, a person forces those men to question their very sexual identity. The onus becomes placed upon the individual to protect other men from the implication of homo-erotic desire, a man’s pact.
The requirement for socially-approved expressions of male eroticism becomes more desperate as simple acts of affection become tinged with the fear of becoming socially isolated, outcast from even the most basic male contact. For some, the script of the masculine precludes even the enjoyment of physicality through dance and movement or failing to mask the body in clothing that highlights angularity and squareness, hiding any hint of its grace and beauty.
If we must label someone homo-sexual based purely on the fact that he is looked at with interest due to his beauty, we preclude any ability for the artistic expression of masculine beauty. Furthermore, we presuppose the masculinity of the eye, neglecting the slightest possibility of feminine sexual interest.
How is it that we have become so intolerant of femininity, both in the collective gaze and in the expression of masculinity? With such a hyper idealized sense of sexual identity, we preclude any man in the woman or woman in the man. We ask for men to exist as emotionless, sports loving automaton and women as overtly soppy, unrealistic manipulators.
The construction is obviously absurd and well beyond most normal people’s abilities, but that doesn’t mean that the pressure such a standard exerts on these same people doesn’t create a kind of psychic tension that may lead to identity confusion, among other things.
I would have to say, that it’s probably okay to look at a man, to think about a man’s sexuality and appreciate a man’s physique as a man, without actually wanting to have sex with that man. Even if you do have sexual thoughts about men from time to time, it still doesn’t mean that you are gay. Having a proclivity for people of the same sex is not a choice, but having a gay identity is. The sexual act is, at it’s best and most wholesome, an act of choice even if our feelings are beyond our control. Our identities are executions of who we believe ourselves to be and who we want to be. Our sexual identity is our possession and is as much an act of choice as anything else. Furthermore, our declaration of our sexual selves is a choice that cannot be made from the outside in. Regardless of sexual desire and action, our identities are complex, nuanced, and ultimately decided by each individual in accordance with the multitudinous pressures, factors, and preferences unique to each.
The specter of being identified as gay, through normal human vulnerability can only be quelled if we choose not to be rattled by it. As a woman, I will continue to support my male friends and lover’s in their ability to define their own sexual identities, separate from the pressures and expectations of our society. I will also continue to make light of men who still feel the need to place these pressures onto other men, continuing to hope that in supporting their growth, which may very well involve working through trauma and intense social pressures, that I can make a positive difference in the lives of men who may need to break out of some fairly intense and dehumanizing bull-shit.