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NO SALE:  I'm getting it

by Michael Kirwan — July 30, 2012


There was a time, not too long ago, when images which addressed or appealed to homosexuals were extremely rare. In the course of my own lifetime, "queer art" has gone from an underground novelty to being readily available in a number of media platforms. The Internet provides hundreds of thousands of photos and video clips that range from the tepid to the exhaustingly graphic. Billboards and advertisements feature models tastefully displaying their baskets to sell underwear. Movies and television make a sincere yet awkward attempt to include gay characters in their storylines. Mainstream magazines regularly have shirtless 'hunks' invitingly leering at the camera. Gossip columns publish photos and openly discuss the relatively mundane activities of famous homosexuals. Our legal triumphs and statewide disappointments are covered by the New York Times in pictorial tableaus. To see or read about some queerness is practically unavoidable today.


But, that was not always the case. Images depicting or alluding to male homosexuality in the not-too-distant past were cause for alarm. They were scandalous, shocking and subversive. A good early example of this was the official reaction to Paul Cadmus' "The Fleet's In."


The Fleet's In - Paul Cadmus (1904-1999)


Just acknowledging that fags existed without a sense of virulent condemnation would cause artists to be ostracized and abandoned by their supporters. We were rendered invisible, labeled as criminals and mental defectives and gleefully menaced by the upstanding citizens of our country when exposed. Fifty years ago, I'd probably be in prison or murdered for some of the artwork I create. I want the younger homos to be very aware of our sad, hidden history and to be ever on guard for any signs of those attitudes returning.


There was such a scarcity of homosexual imagery so what little existed was coveted, prized, special, secret and daringly collected by men who understood the inherent danger of being caught with such material. We'll never know how many drawings and photographs were destroyed in sheer panic or by disgusted relatives when these covert archivists died. Unlike other art collectors, there was no trip to a framer or bragging to all and sundry of an acquisition. The homocentric items were squirreled away in folios and then shoved into a secure location, far from where some snoop might accidentally stumble upon them. Instead of being hung in prominent areas for friends to admire and envy, the queer art was viewed clandestinely and only shared with a few select and wholly trusted other queers. It was a different time. People would proudly exhibit a purchased shrunken head but never even contemplate doing so with an expertly executed painting of two men affectionately holding hands, let alone depicting indications of an erection. [Note: For a fascinating, historical read about this time in gay history, please check out Secret Historian: The life and times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist, and sexual renegade written by Justin Spring — Webmaster]


Good art should be shocking and subversive, not just a splash of pleasing complimentary color filling a void on a wall. It should provoke an unfamiliar train of thought, after all, looking at an artist's work is giving the viewer unparalleled access into the deepest psychological recesses of another human being. To sample another's thought processes so intimately invites the audience to examine and acknowledge what's going on in their own heads. [Just as an aside, and mind you I don't know if there's any scholarship to back me up on the subject, but even up to the early 80's when I was initially published, every published artist working in gay erotica used an alias or abbreviated version of their name to protect their identity. As far as I know I was the first to use my real full name.] [Update from my Webmaster who diddled or Googled something or someone and found out artist Harry Bush apparently used his real name which is my fault for thinking that was not his real name.]


I'd like to talk about Tom of Finland whose work was the epitome of shock and subversiveness in the field of erotic art. As a bit of a disclaimer here I'll mention that I am affiliated with the Tom of Finland Foundation and have been for something like fifteen years. I've lived at and regularly visit the house, have bonded with the many people associated with the organization, and have more respect for Durk Dehner, President & Co-Founder, than any other person I've ever met.


I'm not one who studies the work of other artists, I have an almost paranoid superstition about subconsciously absorbing someone else's technique or themes. And such is the case with Tom's work. Beyond feverishly digesting his drawings in filched Physique Pictorials as a cock-hungry teenager, I've ever only casually glanced at his oeuvre and not with my inner artist's eye. I had no need to. I got his message almost immediately and incorporated it into my philosophy so I didn't need constant reiteration. What he proffered was indeed radically subversive, and for the times, explicitly shocking. I'm not talking about the fucking and fisting, orgies or mock-rapes. I'm talking about the central theme that being queer was an extraordinary and magical gift, not the regretful and perverted curse that popular culture ascribed to us. We were freed of the moral straitjackets and strictures that held other people down in his visual universe. We were exceptional demi-gods cavorting with lustful abandon. We were part of an elite brotherhood that celebrated our masculine nature and unique powers. Tom gave us license to revel in our sexual urges rather than pathetically apologize for them.


Untitled - Graphite on paper, 1959 - TOM OF FINLAND (1920–1991) — © 1959 Tom of Finland Foundation


The dissemination of his drawings caused a revolution in how queers thought about themselves and forced any straight people who came across them to reassess their understanding of male homosexuality. Suddenly, we were no longer sniveling, lisping half-men flitting around in the dark consumed by a suicidal panic. We were strong, proud όber-men happier, more aggressive, more capable and more desirable than even the straight men believed themselves to be. Tom delivered us to a path of our own rather than the one society invented for us. His vision was the height of subversion — shocking in it's redefinition of a communal identity and transformational in ways he may not have fully intended when he began his journey. Tom of Finland had a profound influence on every homo (even those who never saw his artwork experienced his largesse by proxy), he was a prolific and exacting master craftsman, and he should be rightfully honored for his courageous contribution to the Gay movement. He deserves the gay equivalent of recognition that the pioneers in the civil rights for people of color have garnered. Sadly, in our puritanical and hypocritical country, his beautiful, big dicks will prevent that from happening for quite a while.


Back to our story. I get it. My own catalogue of queer images may not be transformational. Unless it grants straight boys who consume my images to come to the remarkable conclusion that if they just want to get their dicks wet, then they needn't spend time and money dating; don't have to pretend to care about meaningless blather; and should have no compunction to subdue/restrict their normal behaviors just to get a piece. They can get their rocks off with a compliant friend or a complete stranger and not utter a single word throughout. They can get sexually serviced in a restroom in six minutes and not have to waste months of courtship for an inferior pleasure rife with emotional demands and pregnancy fears. It's a somewhat unlikely outcome given the conformist pressures and sexual hysteria in our society, but the smarter and more imaginative youths [I wonder why that term only applies to males. Women, too, have youthful years, right?] have been figuring it out for centuries.


So, why collect my original artwork specifically? I'll tell you why. The 99% of homoerotic imagery is devoted to the objects of our desire. Beautiful men (and in my mind, there are very few who aren't), burly, surly, uniformed, outfitted in gear, passive or aggressive, suggestive, oblivious, snarling, making themselves available or not, muscled, manly, and oozing sensuality in every size, color and dimension imaginable. They are always the desire, what we long for, who we want to be, the fodder for our personal fantasies. What most sexual imagery shows is the persons or activities that spur/excite/contour our waking dreamscape.


Rather than focus on any particular object of desire, the bulwark of my drawings explore the desire itself. It is a consideration and examination of the interior urges that prompt sexual congress of whatever degree. It is often not the individual companion(s) that incite the need to touch/fuck/suck, but instead, it is the natural expression of self, an innate horniness, a recognition of an opportunity to derive pleasure from a given situation. I portray an exercise of the id. It's rarely the prettiness of the partner(s) that instigate the outcome of my scenarios. It is solely the proximity of the partners and their willingness which allows events to unfold as depicted. It is within ourselves to propel our own sexual impulses. We don't have to rely exclusively on external stimuli to orchestrate our libidinous inclinations.


So, you may well speculate, what Kirwan is proposing in his artwork is an acceptance/appreciation of a truly selfish form of sexual awareness, and how is that a good thing and deserving of my support? I'll tell you why.


I see things. Not dead people or pink elephants or any other type of spectral apparition. What I see is a constant campaign from corporate/governmental propaganda, the exhortations from the pulpits, and an insidious public promotion that we only have nominal control over our own lives. We are urged to cooperate, to conform, to be consumers of ideas as well as material goods, to trust others to guide us through every and any decisions we may make. Lip-service is paid to "rugged individualism," but at every turn, any attempt to exercise that independence is subtly thwarted. We are encouraged to believe that our very sexuality is only valid as a response to another person's attractiveness and that any self-generated horniness is to be ignored and deplored. Call it a trend, call it a conspiracy, but I see a manufactured effort to contain and direct human behavior. If you're not totally responsive to marketing techniques, you are being un-American. We have pundits interpreting invented talking points. We have "reality TV" telling us that there is no longer an instructive narrative, only randomness, beyond our control — people just doing shit because they have a camera pointed at them. We must all fear the contrived terrorist threat and sacrifice our privacy and civil rights to "protect" us. More and more the "ideas" that affect the public are being promulgated by an increasing consolidated handful of untrustworthy players. Independent voices are shut down or bought out in a horrifyingly Orwellian fashion.


"Oh, Michael. You're paranoid! Another fringe lunatic who decries and rejects the basic components that bind society together. An obnoxious fag who draws dick pictures. Someone who doesn't want to play nicely with others and is determined to rock the boat. Go away. Don't bother us with your silly theories. I'm absolutely free to be whatever I want to be!"


Perhaps... perhaps. Before the assimilation process began, homos were an actual threat to this agenda because as outsiders, as people positioned beyond the realm of normative expectations, we could all see the bullshit as it unfolded and were artistically inclined enough to expose it. We knew they lied about us and we could extrapolate there were plenty of other things they could be equally deceptive about. We knew that the "boy meets girl" trope we were all hammered with since infancy was a concoction. We knew that religion was a crock of shit since Jesus didn't strike us down with a lightning bolt after we slobbered over some creep's cock as promised by the priests. We knew that law enforcement harassing and exploiting us was politically motivated and not at all a nod to "public decency." Our ideas were our own because the regular culture excluded us from formally participating. Our sense of community was strong because we were outcasts, and we knew that the only ones that truly had our backs were our gay brethren. Whatever. That's the past. Now that we've been effectively mainstreamed, it is not just our own survival we must acutely monitor, we've got to look out for everyone else as well.


Tom of Finland was right. What we fags possess is a rare and wonderful gift. It is now incumbent on us to use our powers to benefit humanity to the best of our abilities. Queers have always been the main civilizing force in history and this is no time to let our collective, homo spirit atrophy to pointlessly appease straight folks.


So, that's what I'm doing. That's my "goal" in life. To remind gay boys and men why and how we are different. I want to underscore the premises: our sexual proclivities are uniquely our own; our psychological profile makes us both more alert and understanding; and holding on to and owning our sexual impulses is necessary if we are to prosper, advance and maintain our communal viability. When we acknowledge that our sexual nature is our own device, we become more attuned to other thought processes that we need to guard. If we do this right, we not only participate but lead (as we have done from behind the curtains) as mankind moves forward. Being a gay person isn't just a name tag to wear, it's a way of life.


Sanctuary - 2012 - Michael Kirwan (1953- )


I'd like you all to consider buying one or more of my drawings. I'd like you to donate money to my survival efforts if you can't afford the artwork. I'd like to believe that the gay community and our many active sympathizers want to support irregular personages such as myself because I've dedicated my life to entertaining, enlightening, and acting as a cohesive agent for our shared cause. I really don't think we should leave the marketplace of ideas up to commercialism or "Social Darwinism." Queers should be smart enough to avoid that trap. Between the thugs and the preachers and a lack of any coherent, unifying message, the cause of the Black civil rights movement has languished for years. To stymie the voice of a disenfranchised population has been a winning tactic for our enemies. When was the last time you heard about the plight of our Native Americans? Think everything is rosy for them? Our gay magazines and institutions are vanishing. People like me have less of a platform from which to communicate with the broader gay spectrum, so I'm reduced to inveigling.


Have an aversion to representations of giant cocks leaking seminal fluids? That would be something you might want to work on after you hit the PayPal button or send a money order. It's who we are, not an inconvenient aftereffect of our skills at flower arranging. Own it. Be it. Celebrate it.


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