Category Archives: Identity Issues

Identity Issues

The Elusive Nature Of Intimacy In A Modern World

The other day I had some friends over, we partied a little too late, and everyone was getting a little drunk. At the end of the night I was taking a friend home who is slightly disabled to the point where he can no longer drive. Several years back he had been stricken with a brain disorder that paralyzed one side of his body, making it difficult for him to get around. He has been recovering in the past year or so since I have gotten to know him, but the recovery process is slow. He is a single man who lives alone, in his mid 30’s, and extremely attractive. On the drive home we began to talk about relationships and what the modern sense of dating is like in this time. My heart was filled with such agony as he began to describe his constant connection to others online, and how painful the loneliness of his life has become, just trying to connect with others. Connecting for sex is not the problem, but connecting for any kind of intimacy seems to be elusive. I made an off handed remark that this seems to be the way of our modern gay culture. This idea has really been haunting me the past couple of days as I have been thinking about that loss or lack of intimacy in our modern world. I don’t think his disability plays much of a part in his loneliness, because he is a good communicator, has a great personality, and is very easy to hang out with, but lies more with our culture becoming so disjointed that we have become desensitized to personal interaction. I know we live in a time where everyone is so busy trying to live their lives that fitting others into their world can become difficult. Do they actually need someone to share their lives with? When you can readily have sex with people you meet on the internet, hook up for a half hour and move on, it seems to make life easier. Many of the younger gay people I talk to are not even looking for any kind of relationship because they don’t want their lives to be complicated by others. They can get what they need and move on without any kind of entanglement. I guess it surprises me how uncomplicated the basic needs of a person becomes as the world we live in becomes so complicated. When I was a young gay man, it was intimacy first that sex came out of when I was with someone. It always seemed to heighten the encounter. I don’t think the fact that people are picking each other up has changed from my earlier days, then now. Perhaps it was even easier then because you could do it anywhere. The gaydar would go off, you would make the connection in public place, and follow each other to private spaces. But again it was the height of the sexual revolution, before HIV. There was a thrill to be able to be this intimate with another person and you often lingered in the afterglow of what had just happened because it was so sensational. But this whole connection online or texting, through minimalist words or phrases, with glimpse of a dick or ass taken in the mirror from a cell phone, in a padded profile, seems to remote and distant. Now the act of sex is mistaken for intimacy and nothing is really shared other then the body. And Now my heart is broken for a friend who feels so isolated and alone and living on the edge of others actions and words that never come. I think the real disability here does not lie with my friend but in what we have become because we are too afraid to let others into our worlds.

Growing Beyond False Expectations

Our first love and/or relationship often define who we become in the future. My first relationship actually turned out to be quite awful and in many ways set me back socially for many years to come. A product of being born in the 60’s and reaching my maturity in the 70’s in small town Montana, I had different expectations of what I thought a relationship should be. Through American television, we had all bought into the idealism of a perfect family unit where there were no major issues, and the ones that arose on the surface were solved at the dinner table like in shows like Leave it to Beaver or The Brady Bunch. Everything was always portrayed as happy and normal. This creates a false sense of normalcy and really led to a really fucked up way of looking at reality. There were no role models with good examples how of we really should interact with each other and how to deal with situations that were beyond the norm. Not all families where as healthy as those portrayed on the small screens in our houses we where becoming addicted to as our evening programming. During this era my mother and father were perfect in my eyes. They were the epitome of what we had seen portrayed by these television families. My mother stayed at home, tended us kids, took care of the house duties, and kept us fed. When I left home this was also my expectation. So when I hit my first relationship, and it turns out to be with a man, I had no idea of what to do, but follow what I had been taught. I lived in a fantasy world that I would soon learn was far from perfect. When I slept with someone for the first time, it somehow meant something more and I felt an obligation to hold on. I expected to be loved in return and that somehow we would live in a perfect world and be happy until the end together. But my sexual awakening was happening at the beginning of the 80’s in the height of the sexual revolution where most of the world was finally finding a freedom of sexual expression they had never known before. As you now know I picked up my first partner in a porn world of anonymous casual sex and this should have been my first indication where the relationship would end up. I now look back at my journals from that time and see that though I was having fun and, though I thought I was falling in love with this man, I really was not satisfied with the actual relationship because there are lots of notations of fighting early on, breaking it off, and then coming back together again. Looking back I don’t think I was in love at all but became obsessed with fitting into that idealistic world I thought I belonged. Perhaps I tried too hard to fit into that mode and this is what became the destruction of the relationship. I believed in a monogamous world where we where true to each other. What I didn’t realize or was blinded by my rose colored glasses and refused to see was that he did not. I did not discover this until it was too late. I quit a great job and followed him first to Illinois and eventually ending up in Texas, where once we began to live together, it become quite apparent. That year was probably the hardest and most painful year of my life. Once ended took me years to get over and I think has impacted me ever since.

I learned early not to put to much expectation in others. What people say is what they rarely do or are doing. I have learned over the years to not put trust in a false expectation. As a gay man those expectations are harder then ever to be bound to and in the end can only lead to hardship. We cannot possess or possibly own another person; you have to learn to accept them for who and what they are. You are also not going to change them. These have been lessons learned through much hardship. Since those early days I have actually found love and been loved. I have had some really great relationships that are healthy and strong. I am a no non-sense sort of guy who says what he feels and communicates directly without innuendo. I have learned to love myself first and live my life with as much dignity and pride as possible and have found this is what leads to a healthy relationship with mutual respect and adoration for others. After all we are all human.

Evolution Of A Culture

I am completely obsessed with building the website now and I seem to work on it non-stop. I reached out to many of the talented people whom I have gotten to know over this past year and the whole project is becoming a wonderful collaboration of so many wonderfully talented people. Ideas are abundant, and the possibilities unlimited. I see now that this will grow well beyond myself and am coming up with a vision for the future where part of it will become a platform for others to come together. I have been searching the web for a long time trying to make some sort of connection to others who do what I do, and it has been very scattered. It seems once I find something that is working it suddenly disappears. I am not creating just a website, but a Joomla interface which becomes a dynamic portal engine and content management system that can be shared by many and has the potential to become quite interactive. In a sense, this can become a sort of space that becomes a clearinghouse for gay arts, written, and visual. However, that is many steps and stages away: but it is my long term vision of what The Naked Man Project will eventually become when the blog part of this project ends at the close of this year. Right now I am having a blast just putting myself together as The Naked Man Project and learning the process.

I realize through my many years I have been obsessed with finding my identity as a gay man and the evolution of its culture over the past 30 years. It has changed so drastically from one extreme to the other: being apprehensive and filled with self-doubt and self-loathing now to the point where we can be married in many states. Montana not included. There is so much that has captivated me along the way, wondrous things that can very easily become lost in the shadows of our evolution. Much that the new generation has taken for granted and probably doesn’t even care to know from which its origins spring. But it really begins with the naked self and how we look at ourselves in that mirror each day. I feel a lot of being gay has been a projection on what we wanted to become and a rejection of the values from which we come. We can so easily become paralyzed by our own internalized homophobia. Our safety and security jeopardized by our inability to communicate with each other. Sure, the social networks are creating a web of friends we can interact with, but our decreasing lack of skills toward communication seems to be minimalized to a mere tweet that now must be deciphered to understand its value. Manhunt and Craigslist still rules supreme for anyone wanting to hook up, often without even getting to know their names, merely for a moment of gratification, and then moving on. Why do we still live in a world that values being anonymous? I do have to say the images and profiles on Manhunt are becoming captivating and creative from an artist point of view, as we try to express the core of our sexual/sensual selves as it becomes the new calling card which we hang our identity. But it is a world where a man of my age is shunned from even being acknowledged no mater how creative or witty I become. Perhaps we no longer need relationship or companions. Perhaps our lives have become so busy that we no longer need that interaction. It’s like art, have we become so saturated with it that it no longer contains any intrinsic value. I always envisioned a future where as we evolved as a gay community that we would somehow become closer to each other as a culture. But it has become the opposite, that vastness just grows wider and more distant.

But I also find a vast richness and body of friends on the Internet that are enriching my life and helping me move toward a greater understanding and vision of myself. In many ways it is awesome to stand here at this moment and look out over a magnificent world of possibilities.

The Shadow Of Others

I am beginning to see and recognize that I have always lived in the shadow of others. It feels most of my life has been connected to something or someone else. This past weekend I have been cleaning all of my old stuff out of the attic of the old place. Boxes and boxes of things I have collected over the years. Things I had forgotten, or better yet thing I had perhaps wanted to remain forgotten. I have been a person who has kept a petty extensive journal of my life, and so there are boxes and boxes of handwritten pages from all the days of my existence, probably the silly scrawling of a boy living in a world of misunderstood angst. The first box I began to explore seemed to contain all the images of my youth I had forgotten. I opened a pouch to discover my high school graduation pictures from Superior. The person in them was not at first recognizable, but it was unmistakably me. I stared at these images, transfixed for a long time, trying to connect to this mistakable past. In the images I was happy, content, my eyes filled with innocence and hope. Oddly enough this is not the way I remember myself. For some reason I could never see the handsomeness of a lad fill with creative zest. I have always felt it a burden to be different, odd, queer. You see I had a bother that was a year and a day younger than me. But I had somehow failed the first grade and was doomed to repeat it thus putting me at the same level as my younger brother. Mark was perfection in every way, blond hair, blue eyes, athletically inclined, the joy of my father’s life, he could do nothing wrong. He was vibrant and outgoing, everything I was not. Looking back, I become creative so as to not compete and allow myself to become original. I loved to read and often escaped through stories, I now see my creative nature was maybe also a means to escape. I was gangly, uncoordinated and often humiliated and intimidated by the other kids. You see, being one level back mentally and emotionally, I was still one level ahead in the physical development of my body and growth. And now looking back, I realized that I had lived all those years in the shadow of my brother, not thinking I was good enough to succeed only to become to oddball of our family.

I was my mother’s son, her first child, and in many ways coddled by her overprotective nature. My mother being a mousy slim hipped thing that looked like Ingrid Bergman dwelt in her own life of fear, being abandoned as a child, becoming co-dependant on every moment of her own existence. She hung on tight to those of us around her, me especially tight, that much of my youth I felt suffocated from her immense grip. I know until the day she died I was one of the most precious things to come into her existence. We learn from our parents and inherit their tendencies and I too became co-dependent on others unable to survive on my own.

Looking into this image of some thirty-two years ago, I see no trances of the reverie of my awkwardness in this image. All I see now is a beautiful boy with soft brown curly hair, a contented smile in my mouth moving up into the warmth my deep dark eyes. I really began to question, was this really me? I don’t remember being so handsome, so confident, so self-assured. Was I? How is it that the physical self can be so different from the emotional self? For some reason I always looked to my brother, and could only recognize those beautiful traits in him and could somehow never get beyond it to gaze upon myself.

Through the process of this project, my life has begun to open as I face all the things that haunt my past. Perhaps it is now time to open all those old journals and see what they will reveal. Perhaps my life is not at all the way I perceived it. I have a friend who is now asking me to look into the mirror and see all those positive things about myself that I can’t seem to or perhaps have never seen within myself before. I now think, he is right, this is the time. I realize now that most of my life has been dwelling in the shadows of others. In theater I dwelled in the darkness, behind the scenes. I have been in domineering co-dependent relationships, and now I linger in the shadows of other photographers I fantasize about emulating or becoming. I expect to succeed in a world filled with so many people wanting to do what I do, now even with their cell phones, it’s becoming hard to compete. I am beginning to see that perhaps the only thing original that I really have to offer, that is different, is myself, at this moment. This has defiantly been the year to step out of the shadows and reveal myself.

I think one of the things I fear the most is facing myself, and actually looking at what lies in front of mirror.

“The World is a Showplace”

The art and importance of networking and collaboration has been my focus this week. The Internet is incredibly awesome for networking. I have vaguely been familiar with a lot of people out there, but feel I have been too busy, or insecure to actually make the connection. I am beginning to meet so many people that are going though a lot of the same issues and struggles I am. Suddenly this blog seems to generate interest or curiosity in a lot of people. The first one, ten days ago, started with just a couple of friends and yesterday there were a hundred and ten. The model search is going coming along slowly, as it always does. I have been working the heck out of networking some of our local sites to connect with potential subjects. Monday I had three, but it all seems to take time. My goal is to begin working on new images next week, in the meantime I have become obsessed with networking and rallying with my artist friends and organizing and cleaning through the files on my computer, an arduous task I always do this time of the year when everything else slows down and I have some time.

I have always felt my art is collaboration. Working in theater was certainly a collaboration. When I work with a model; it’s us coming together to create the image. I always value others input into whatever I do. I think I am very good at taking criticism, and it becomes one of the greatest tools for growth and finding new inspirations. I don’t necessarily allow it to define my direction, but I do ponder the relevance of what is said and consider the source of its origin. I know the value of others experience and insight and hope and respect that they will treat me as fair as I will treat them. My life has been defined by my ability to adapt and change. I look to many sources for inspiration. I used to love to look at magazines and tear out the pages of images that excited me. I collected all kinds of images. Now that inspiration is the Internet. Sometimes I am drawn to just a line in the image: a texture, a color, a style, an eyebrow, a face, a pose, a connection, and a look. When I begin to work with new models I always suggest they begin to collect images they relate to, bring them in, and this become the basis for a common visual dialogue that becomes the basis from which to leap. It brings us to the same page. I am a very visual person and have a studio full of books and other visual references that fill my “creative well” from which I can draw. I don’t imitate others but rather draw and build upon them. I explore how it relates to my style and then find what will make it unique to me.

One of my new goals since I have begun this project, is to look at one new artist each day, connect with that artist and begin developing a relationship and dialog with someone outside of my world. To create a collective, yes sort of like the Borg, to learn and assimilate what wisdom and inspiration they may have and to impart some of that experience into these daily blogs. Thank you Internet! There is already a great host of artist residing in cyberspace on a site called Red Bubble. I joined it one rainy day last May and it has changed my life. I began to slowly filter some of my images, I had been working on in isolation for a decade, onto the site. Mind you no one had seen any of my images, except the individual models I was working with. I was dumbfounded by the response the images received by like minded artist on Red Bubble. Other artists began to comment on what I was doing and giving me feedback. A breathed a deep sigh of relief because I had always feared what the response might be if I ever revealed them publicly.  I live in a place in the universe where a great painting is a landscape with a snow covered mountain in the background. The new connection and feedback from others began to instill a confidence within me. Suddenly I had found a whole world of people who were just like me. I began to correspond and ask questions and make connections. Everyone was so genuine and heartfelt in his or her response and feedback. Then I got busy with all my summer projects and jobs and had to let it fall by the wayside. I tend to over work in the summers, save up and then feel secure enough just to focus on my creativity through the winter.  Hence this project was born. When I occasionally find time in my schedule to work with a model and actually do something artistic for myself, the results was amazing. The new found confidence was helping me to go beyond any thing I had ever created before. Every shoot was a step up from what I had previously done. It was almost like it had some purpose or meaning to what I was creating. It all began to click and I was bringing a remarkable quality into all my other photographic work: weddings, senior portraits, but the nudes are what really popped. So here I am on the precipice of something extraordinary and making the leap. For those who know me, you know my motto has always been, LEAP AND THE NET WILL APPEAR.

I found the perfect picture on Red Bubble this morning that captured that feeling.  BLIND FAITH  I hope Thomas doesn’t mind I made the link.

The bottom image by George Lynn Platt from 1954 became the inspiration for today’s image. Suddenly Dinah Washington came on singing “The World is a Showplace” and I know the universe cosmically is connecting to what I am doing.

I think of this blog as a collaboration. Obviously there are a lot of others drawn into my project and I would like your insight or perspective on topics or interest. We have so much in common that we can share with each other. I would love to hear from you and know more about who’s here. Feel free to ask questions or suggest things you would like to see or issues you would like to see me explore.