sandwiches are not on the menu

Michelangelo's Night sculpture

Michelangelo’s Night sculpture

As much as some people are bothered by women authoring books featuring gay male characters, I’m bothered by the continual analysis of it by everyone, gay and straight, male and female. Would there be the same reaction to a painting of two men done by a female artist? I’m thinking not.

Fiction featuring female protagonists has been authored by men since the beginning of story telling. Men write about women, women write about men—there’s little questioning of this in heterosexual literature. It’s the element of sexuality between subject and author that causes the friction (pun acknowledged, but beside the point), and along with that, the dismissive air that some of these theories take on. “Oh, the little lady wants to be a man!” A woman writing about the engagement of physical features she doesn’t have is wish fulfilment. Or that it’s about fantasies of being with two men. The fear of sandwich subterfuge, and the whole Freudian theory of penis envy that one could bash on about forever. Penis good, vag bad, whatever. Sounds like an intentionally restrictive viewpoint to me. I’ve found that very, very few female authors are interested in making sandwiches, they just want to make art.

The quality of what women are producing naturally comes into play. People may automatically assume that a woman writing about men cannot do so from a convincing perspective. There are some artists who do have trouble expressing outside of their personal perspectives, absolutely. That’s more a question of choice, empathy or talent rather than inherent ability. Michelangelo’s sculpture of Night is little more than two malformed lumps representing breasts, slapped onto a male form. He wasn’t an admirer of the female form in his personal life, and from his art it seems that he didn’t identify with the feminine apart from Madonnas and angels. Fair enough. But that doesn’t mean there’s no purpose or merit in what he created. We all know that Michelangelo was entirely capable of sculpting realistic breasts and curves. The fact that he chose not to was just that – a choice, and perhaps there is a specific intention behind it.

It’s what I’ve been saying all along about words as art. Art – all art – is storytelling, whether through painting or sculpture or dance or novels or whathaveyou. It’s not a matter of ownership, it’s a matter of artistic ability. Either you like or dislike the end product, that’s a matter of aesthetics. And there’s nothing wrong with having an immediate reaction to what we’re seeing, it’s part of the process. But the next step is to move beyond that initial judgement and say okay, what’s in here for me? There’s a sliding scale between two extremes, and in coming to a conclusion, there’s always thought about underlying themes and motivations—or there should be, because of course they exist. There’s little point in creating if there’s no motivation behind it.

It’s also a two way street: there’s the artist and there’s the audience, and each has their own opinions and motivations, and the ability to discover something more by engaging. That is the purpose of art. But here’s something we as an entire culture need to address in order to focus on the aesthetics – letting go of sexual paranoia, the taboo of the body. Sex and sexuality in all its variations should be alright to play with. It’s called exploration, and it’s something we need to do more of. We might discover some new things, like the natural mutability of sexuality, and that maybe we have risen to a level of intelligence that allows us to pull down the barriers and cross the borders we’ve constructed. Art helps us to do that, if we let it.

In my second novel I identify art and the role it plays in self exploration like this: “The exposure of all ills, the onslaught to anarchism, to advancement: artistic enterprise. Sounds quite lofty doesn’t it? Perhaps, perhaps not. …Repulsion breeds the exquisite, is it not true?”

I think it’s true. We can acknowledge the creator without being dismissive of the creation. Let there be advancement in the wake of repulsion.

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