#IfYouAreBehind — Queer Bodies in Art / The Reality of PrEP / Improving Sex Ed

Art —Redefining Queer Bodies in Art

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“Sexy but not erotic, taking a softer stance” in the depiction of queerness. As I am personally trying to define my own understanding of the definition of “queer” and as I continue in my introspection, it’s wonderful to have allies like The NY Times, who constantly pushes the educational boundaries of a community, specifically highlighting this week the “male nude”, a queer perspective.

Although it’s “one of the oldest artistic fixations”, the POV and perceptions of the male nude constantly change throughout centuries. And as we truly embrace the queer era, what better way than to highlight queer artists who not only embrace their own skin, but also are able to express a community’s narratives through their captivating strokes, all the while knowingly (or unknowingly) rewriting history.

The “male on male” gaze and all of its iterations have come from prior artistic giants, like Tom of Finland, Robert Mapplethorpe, David Hockney, Rotimi Fani-Kayode and many, many others. “But while some old masters fetishized the male body in barely coded ways, the idea of an openly queer artist expressing his desires from a queer perspective was only born in the last century.”

John MacConnell, Louis Fratino, Kou Shou, Martin Bedolla, Oluseye, and Stephen McDermott are just a few artists you may or may not be familiar with, but should be following. All of them are part of a recent revival of male figure drawing craftsmen who share their splendid works via the likes of all social media channels. The direct to consumer market and, more specifically, the curation of one’s experiences, is clearly banging the “queer” world. And why the fuck not? It’s awesome.

But as The NY Times put it: “Is it “real art,” or is it nothing more than a kind of high-minded erotica?”.

I love this quote — “Yet in art, as in life, there’s little agreement as to what’s actually sexy.” This means more than you know and is for sure something I agree with, specifically when we criticize or even marginalize within our own community.

This is where it gets a little distorted for me. Louis Fratino believes that “these images of beefed-up stallions are imported from straight culture’s idea of masculine beauty. The really queer thing to do is make work that works against that. Where bodies are not hypersexualized.”

Let’s go back to art (and life) having “little agreement as to what’s actually sexy”. Everyone that enters my offices has different perspectives of what gets them off — whether that’s the type of partner they engage with or the wide array of sexual acts they engage in. It varies in physique, race, gender — you name it. The beauty is in the differences and admiring the uniqueness in each of us. I don’t think it’s fair to put down or accuse the groundbreaking artists who led the way simply because their work showcased hypersexualized bodies. All should be celebrated in their own right for trying to change the narrative and make history. Let’s just look back in awe and continue to build upon the foundation of queer art, however that speaks to you as an artist and, more importantly, as an individual. That individuality in a positive forum speaks volumes on one’s true character.

The works of the new generation of pioneering artists are no different than the giants who came before them. In one word, they are all groundbreaking. And with time, the art speaks for itself. Over-curating a community, to me, leads to continued marginalization. Keep your head up high and pen to paper for all to see and cherish. Sometimes I wish I could draw. But then I remember that my canvas is simply different. While some make breathtaking paintings, I make beautiful assholes.

Science — Not as PrEP-ared as We Thought

“More people are having sex today. We’re in sort of a quiet sexual revolution when it comes to new identities, new labels, and sexual behavior.” I’m not so sure I agree on the “quiet” part, but clearly based on the below findings, we all have a lot of work that still needs to be accomplished…

The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law reported the first study on estimates of HIV testing and use of PrEP among gay and bisexual men, using a national probability sample in the United States. In the study, researchers examined gay and bisexual men in three age groups: young (18–25), middle (34–41) and older (52–59).

Study findings:

  1. Only 4% of sexually active gay and bisexual men in the U.S. use pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
  2. 52% of young sexually active gay and bisexual men were familiar with PrEP as HIV prevention, compared with 79% of men aged 34–41.
  3. Visiting an LGBT health clinic and searching online for LGBT resources were associated with greater likelihood of PrEP use
  4. 68% of men who were familiar with PrEP as HIV prevention had a positive attitude toward PrEP use — despite the low level of usage
  5. 25% of young sexually active gay and bisexual men have never been tested for HIV
  6. Only 45% of young sexually active gay and bisexual men had been tested for HIV at least annually, compared with 59 percent of men aged 34–41 and 36 percent of those aged 52–59.
  7. Black gay/bisexual men were more likely than White men to meet recommendations for HIV testing, which may be due to recent efforts to target Black men for HIV testing
  8. Visiting an LGBT health clinic and being out as gay or bisexual to health care providers were associated with greater likelihood of HIV testing

Now, probability sampling has its own inherent flaws and 4% does seem awfully low in comparison to some other studies. But if taken as is, regardless of the actual numbers, the end result is similar: far too few of us that should be on PrEP are actually taking it. All the other stats raise very interesting points, as it pertains to access and testing. But how many times do we have to see these results before we actually talk about solutions?

“Our findings suggest that health education efforts are not adequately reaching sizable groups of men at risk for HIV infection,” said the study’s principal investigator, Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Senior Public Policy Scholar at the Williams Institute. “It is alarming that high-risk populations of men who are sexually active with same-sex partners are not being tested or taking advantage of treatment advances to prevent the spread of HIV.”

Another one: “The extremely low rate of PrEP use, while not surprising given barriers to access in various parts of the country, is disappointing,” said lead author, Phillip L. Hammack, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “I worry especially about younger men who didn’t grow up with the concerns of HIV that men of older generations did. The low rate of HIV testing probably reflects a degree of complacency and cultural amnesia about AIDS.”

Over and over again. It’s the same shit. But what are you doing to rewrite our history? Last week, I met with Gilead just to get a sense of their take on not only their limited reach, but also the bad press they constantly get. Big corporate disconnect and misrepresentation! Boohoo. But I plan on taking it further and attempting to open the lines of this disconnect to change policy. Or to change access. Or mind-set. Hopefully all. But enough of the statistics.

It’s the like of activists and organizations from ACT UP and BreakThePatent.org and us at Bespoke Surgical who are joining forces to urge the FDA to break the patent on PrEP, effectively lowering its cost or at least hold them accountable to provide impactful change. Recently, we tackled PrEP in our premiere episode of Tail Talks and touched on all of the above topics, as well as the slut shaming that comes with its use. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can watch it here.

We don’t have all the answers, but it gets tiring pointing fingers and just looking at the stats, instead of spearheading active policy building for improvement. I have never been one to blame or point fingers. It doesn’t do any one any service. It’s looking back for the knowledge to affect the future that’s critical. Who knows where my meetings will go with Gilead, but it’s time to look at all options with open minds for betterment of our community at large.

Sex — The Change in Old School Sexual Education

“The subject of sex makes us nervous — even without navigating the complexities of consent and all that goes with it. What if we say something wrong and offend someone? How do we make it safe for people (our kids!) to be honest?”

Time magazine hit the mark this week, more specifically the article titled Here’s the Best Way to Start a Conversation with Young People About Sex and Consent by Donna Freitas. The old school conventional “open up dialogue — corralling a bunch of students into a room, so they will tell all of their deepest, darkest secrets and fears about sex” hasn’t worked, past or present. And we at Bespoke Surgical couldn’t agree more. What is so important and what we echo wholeheartedly is getting our kids, clients, and students to read about these complicated subjects — “stories that deal with relationships, sex and consent”.

“This way, they can talk about those stories as opposed to themselves. Stories about other people like them or people they know, in situations they may have experienced or know people who have, allow discussion about personal issues and scenarios without forcing anyone to actually get personal.” I seriously can’t think of a better way to have put this. We get feedback all the time from clients and our followers saying that sometimes they aren’t sure something is wrong, but given context (in the form of someone else’s story), they suddenly become aware that what they’re going through isn’t anything unique and now they are armed with the knowledge to combat the issue at hand (or ass).

But wait — it actually does get better! Freitas then proceeds to highlight several books that hit the mark on sex and consent as a whole, making sure to point out a significant gap in the literature. Can you guess what that is? “While there is no shortage of young adult novels that offer positive and (fairly) explicit and non-explicit stories of dating, love and sex for LGBTQ teens, there is a shortage of books that deal directly with consent and sexual assault between LGBTQ people. The same goes for books on this topic by and about persons of color. This just goes to show how far our culture still needs to go with these conversations.”

This was one of the very reasons we at Bespoke Surgical chose to start our blog, Tales from the Tail. Much like the author, we saw the continued taboo and judgement as it relates to sex in general, let alone anal play in the gay community. This created a huge opportunity for us to make sure to fill the void as it pertains to specific LGBT topics. It’s always very interesting when I am at dinner parties, when people get into the whole “What do you do?” part of the night. It’s like my dissertation of the in’s and out’s of my practice allows each and everyone the opportunity to open up — literally. It’s amazing to see that when given the “green light” to approach taboo or stigmatized subjects, as stated, everyone at some point has been personally affected or knows someone who has, and then it kickstarts the party into high gear. If you ever need a party starter, give me a call! 😂

But one thing we do need to be cognizant about is the diversity amongst our own narrative. We do take this criticism to heart and will continue to work on making sure all are represented equally across all our channels. The more and more we tell people’s stories — whatever their ailments, pitfalls, or situational conflicts — the easier it is for each of us to put ourselves in their shoes, especially as it pertains to our internal turmoil. This in turn allow the masses to see the normalization of any marginalized group.

I know, I know. This story was deep. And it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t say, “Pun intended.” It’s just how I think.

We’d love to hear from you.

Head over to our Instagram and tell us what books, websites, or other resources you think have hit the mark as it relates to LGBTQ+ sex and/or consent.

We would love to start compiling a list for reference. What’s mine? I’m reading Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story. Now it’s your turn…

Stay in touch on Instagram: me and Bespoke Surgical.