Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pre-Valentine's Day: One man's eros is another's ...

Michael Sedano

It was eighty four degrees in Los Angeles yesterday, Monday, a week and two days away from St. Valentine's day. Our national annual celebration of eros. How fitting, then, that last week a kind of erotic resentment came up in a La Bloga discussion. Anonymous2 took exception to a description arising from a remark about the confluence of John Rechy's The Coming of the Night and a story in Dagoberto Gilb's Woodcuts of Women.

Regretting Anonymous2's unintended affront, I decided to take another look at the issue, thinking one man's eros is another man's ...what? Disinterest? Distance? Dismay? Something with a name, but not homophobia, as Anonymous2 accused. Something to discuss, yes.

Gilb's story, "Bottoms", coincidentally happens on a hot day like Monday in El Lay. The heat of the day overlaps the character's reading-induced heat, and heat emanating from a bikini-clad man in the pool. Without identifying the novel, the character is writing a review of The Coming of the Night.

"The book is as explicit as I have ever known, one page after another. I have never read so much about cocks and pecs, the hard and soft, big and small. And it had never occurred to me to consider people as bottoms or tops--that is, ones who want it put and the ones who want to put it. I can't say I'm shocked by the novel's details, nor am I particularly bothered by their modus operandi, but I am on alert. A little touchy, if you'll excuse the expression. For example, a man with a stylish bald head, thick gray hairs on his chest, nipple rings, who I find next to me on the grass, who I bet is top or bottom oriented, who I probably would have never noticed before, for whatever reason has made me uncomfortable, in a synchronicity sort of way--he has put that towel too close to mine and has smiled at me."

It's clear Gilb's alluding to the opening pages of Rechy's novel. The opening story "Jesse, Morning" talks in third person about Jesse's planned celebration of "one glorious year of being gay". Jesse is thinking about his body, about all the sex he's going to have cruising from place to place, reminiscing about a recent night with two men Jesse played sex games with, alternating sex with the one then the other. "In his bedroom in his neat apartment in a court of units surrounding a pool in West Hollywood, Jesse became hard thinking about the prospect. He sat on the edge of his bed wearing only white briefs, now being punched by his aroused cock."

The first time I picked up The Coming of the Night, that paragraph led me to set down the book and not pick it up again for a few days. It has similar impact on Gilb's character, sitting poolside, synchronicity starting at that poolside apartment. A page later, Jesse looks out at the swimming pool and Gilb's story merges: "A man was lounging there. From here all Jesse could see were his long bare legs. The man stood up, to oil himself. From the back, he looked fine--broad shoulders, tapered waist, dark hair. Masculine, so far. Sometimes you couldn't tell until they started talking and ugh, what a surprise. Safe to assume, too, with that bikini he was wearing, that the man was gay."

Gilb's character makes that assumption about his poolside male companion. As an antidote, the character flees into the arms of the woman on his other side. In all likelihood, Gilb's character would have made a different pass at the woman and their affair turn out no differently than it develops. The friendly man simply filled geography and provided the hook-up strategy of the moment. Is Gilb's character homophobic? He confesses otherwise: "I want to be a stereotype: Man sees woman. Thinks woman. Thinks tops. Has woman. Satisfies self." The preference for one is not defined as the absence of the other, it simply is a preference.

I've been ruminating over the issue since that colloquy, and raised the issue with Kathy Gallegos, who runs Highland Park's Avenue50 Studio. Kathy's about to host a wonderful show featuring erotica by women called "Beautiful Deceptions".

Kathy showed me a beautiful photograph of a crouching woman. To Kathy, it has erotic power. I saw a well-printed photo, the first thing I noticed is the model's body outlines an abstract valentine heart. On closer look--her nipples--it's clear it's a crouching woman.

Because the photo displays the woman's nipples, Kathy decided she could not mail that image on the gallery's publicity, electing the image at right. Photographically, not as well-printed as the crouching woman, I'm glad Avenue50Studio uses this image. I find it erotic and a little deceptive, perfectly fitted to the show that runs February 10 through March 4, 2007. Is it a woman's body? Are those female breasts, or a soft man's chest? To echo Rechy, (and doesn't Kathy's photo echo the cover image on Rechy's novel?) I see the photo and I think, feminine so far, but I won't be able to tell until (s)he sits up.

We chatted for a while on why the crouching woman is not as erotic, to me. Perhaps the image is too complex. It doesn't take much to arouse a man's eros, I claimed. Aside from that, there's a lot of androgyny in the crouching woman's face, reminding me of what David Bowie looked like in the 1970s, and I'm not sure some men would be comfortable with the danger the woman's pose suggests. I love the photo though, and agree it should be printed much larger than 8" x 10", maybe in platinum.

Gente in LA will have the opportunity to see these powerful images for themselves when the Poli Marichal curated show opens. There's to be a discussion and a dance performance, too. Ave50 is a cultural hotbed that, sadly, the Los Angeles Times routinely ignores. The penalty of being on the Eastside. I hope you'll click on the link and tell your friends about the show, and the gallery.

Not sure where this discussion's been, or where it's headed. I suppose that's up to you. Next week, look for my, and the other La Bloga Blogueras' Blogueros' Valentine wishes for you. For now, I'm sure it's safe to say, Make Love, Not War.


Blogmeister's Note: If you have thoughts to share on this post, or any subject you feel brings interest to La Bloga, send it along with a click. La Bloga welcomes, urges, encourages, guest columnists. We love our guests, but we'll consider this agape for the moment.


Lisa Alvarado said...

That Gilb's charcter wants to be a stereotype says it all. I think that it's subversive for anyone, queer or straight, to look at the place where boundaries blur, where desire flows in more than one direction. And perhaps the ambiguity, the possibility of meaning, (yours and other's) regardless of your sexual preference, was exactly why the photo was erotic...And personally, Rechy will aways have a place in in literature for writing what "couldn't" be written about.

msedano said...

what goes unsaid is the tribute to rechy's power. that he can present such intensity that it draws the reader beyond the page into some of his characters' lives. Gilb's character wants easy answers, he doesn't want to sweat, nor deal with those boundaries, especially if he doesn't feel fenced in.

the ambiguity, the possibility of meaning inherent in deception gives the images power. again unspoke, there has to be some discussion where meaning exists. the photog's intent and own sexual orientation, or the viewer's?

Anonymous said...

wondering what "says it all says." do you mean that characters in a story have to be "looking beyond," or couldn't it be that gilb is doing that by doing his story? just as rechy did with his work, which is often autobiography.

Lisa Alvarado said...

'Is Gilb's character homophobic? He confesses otherwise: "I want to be a stereotype: Man sees woman. Thinks woman. Thinks tops. Has woman. Satisfies self." The preference for one is not defined as the absence of the other, it simply is a preference.'

I was repsonding to the glibness of Gilb's character...and the construct internally for the character that is still black and white regarding sexuality, less compelling for me as reader.

5:42 AM