featured gallery for September 2017

The Spirit of Male Bodies and Desire

I am a nearly perfect Kinsey 6 lesbian yet I love men, mostly gay men. While I am often appalled by masculinity, I’m also fascinated by it. Because male bodies are not the focus of my desire, I can appreciate them in a way that is not in competition with my own sense of self. This distance has allowed me to be comfortable with men, maleness, and male bodies. I discovered this comfort, this ease, at a time when many gay men were perceived as vectors of disease and death – as less than human. I moved to NYC in the summer of 1988 when the AIDS crisis was in full swing and many men I met were angry, afraid, and sick. But I thought they were beautiful, sexy, funny, and sweet. These men accepted me, validated my anger, and helped me understand and appreciate sexual desire for the first time in my life. I admired and appreciated the centrality of that desire for these men and how they moved through the world honoring that it. I became close to and studied these men whose sexual energy and physical desire were matched by their compassion, care, and tenderness. I’ll spend the rest of my life mourning them: those men who “raised me” into adulthood, those men who are no longer here.

My selections for this month’s gallery chart my own fascination with maleness and my unabashed love of men. I chose the work of four artists:

Vincent Cianni, Wyatt Tan, Robert Getso, and Jon Nalley.

Robert Getso’s images of go-go boys are funny and sexy – two words that also describe Robert. We were in the same affinity group in ACT UP. There was a brief period in the late 80’s and early 90’s when we spent some time together planning actions and getting arrested. It was an intimate time when friends and lovers were made quickly and intensely. Love and comradeship were fierce and tender because we didn’t have time for them to be anything less. Robert’s ACT-UP Boy is, I think, a guy named Ronnie, also a member of my affinity group and Robert’s lover. In this image he seems to be sleeping, soundly and sweetly, as the epidemic was raging. And finally those beautiful ACT UP Boys on the Pier. They look so happy and alive in the New York City sun. And they look like they love each other.

Vincent Cianni’s documentary photographs capture the vibrant and life-affirming sexuality of gay men in NYC before and during the height of the AIDS epidemic. The reclining Michael in the Exhibitionist Series in his white jeans, porn mustache, hands down his pants, who gazes directly into the camera, all in front of a portrait of Barbra Streisand is most certainly the gayest image I have ever seen! Cianni’s work during this period captures the spirit of male bodies and desire that belied the coinciding health crisis raging across the city. Considering the landscape of illness and death that was pervasive during the late 80’s and early 90’s, I find these pictures downright fearless. They thrill me.

Wyatt Tan was born in 1989 around the same time that Vincent Cianni was taking some of those fearless photos of gayness in the midst of a crisis. Tan’s images are sexy for sure. Who doesn’t love a chest harness?! The images are all “pieces” of sexiness… a chest, a hairy thigh, a jock strap, and an ass. These are hot, beautifully composed things to want and have. Created in 2014 and 2016, these images are so different than Cianni’s Exhibitionist Series where Michael and Barbra stare directly into the camera embracing gayness.

Jon Nalley’s documentary photos from the National March on Washington for Lesbian & Gay Rights, 1979 and MAY ACT UP ALBANY ACTION, 1988 are, for me, all about men loving men as friends and lovers and sometimes both. That’s where I want this gallery to end: on men loving each other. These pictures taken at demonstrations pushing back against the stigma and marginalization of that love are particularly powerful and tender. The last image in this gallery is of two men I knew and know – Lee and Joey - two men who loved each other deeply and beautifully. One made it and the other didn’t.