I’ve been rather enamoured by the Germaine Greer book ‘The Boy’ (or sometimes called ‘The Beautiful Boy’) for quite a long time. I can’t remember exactly how I came across it, but I remember it was while I was at the height of the time I was photographing hot men who oozed sex appeal.
But there was something missing in my work and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Looking back, I think I know what it was. These were men that I was photographing. Confident. Self-assured. Grown up. Mature. Even the younger guys I photographed had an air about them that was a very masculine confidence, and I thought that was what ‘made’ the photos – so I sought more of that in the models I booked. I think I was wrong.
There are two standout lines for me in the book. The first is the start of the Proem:
‘This is a book about male beauty. There are some who think the expression “male beauty” is oxymoronic, even perverse. […] Good-looking males should be described as “handsome”. Handsomeness is not an aesthetic quality so much as a moral quality; handsome is as handsome does. The substitution of the word “handsome” for “beautiful” when referring to a male is the linguistic understanding that it is wrong, demeaning even, to appreciate men for their looks.”
The second is the start of Chapter 1 (titled ‘What is a Boy?’):
‘A boy is a male person who is no longer a child, but not yet a man. Boyhood may be long, beginning as soon as a male baby is weaned and not ending until he is permitted to assume the insignia of manhood which may be as much as fifteen or even twenty years later. Boyhood may be telescoped, as when a boy-child is removed from the debilitating society of women, immediately dressed in male clothing and required to imitate the behaviour of grown men.’
The book is lavishly illustrated with examples of these ‘Boys’, but I never quite understood it. I struggled to pull together an idea of ‘The Boy’ from the pictures. I understood that perhaps he was youthful, sometimes strong – but never muscular, soft looking, perhaps slightly effeminate. I can describe these qualities, but I have never quite managed to get an image of The Boy in my mind. I was a small part of the very nebulous reason that I stopped photographing attractive men – I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what wasn’t working with my images.
Fast-forward, oh, some six or seven years and I think I’ve finally cracked it. Well, maybe. But I certainly know what I’m looking for if I start shooing glamour again.
— And this is where it all gets a bit 18+ —
There he was. Laid out on the bedroom floor, confidently watching me watching him. All he needed was a cigarette lazily held between his fingers and he’d have been the rockstar dream that we were sold as teenagers. He put one hand behind his head, stretched the other lazily out, added a cocky twist in his hips, and in that instance I realised this was what had been missing from my photographs for all those years.
I like to feel powerful when I’m intimate with people. And I don’t mean I want to stand over them with a whip while wearing thigh-high leather boots, but I want to feel quietly in charge. Confident in myself. And I love to feel like I’ve bed a prize catch – someone who is quite obviously desirable to others. I don’t need to brag about it, or tell others, or shout from the rooftops that they’ve been in my bed (and it’s generally my bed that I like them to be in) but I enjoy the assurance it gives me that I’m clearly doing something right.
I hadn’t realised it was cockiness that was attractive. We’re always taught that to be cocky is a bad thing. People who are cocky aren’t good people. We should avoid men like that. And it is always men that are cocky, not women. The word cocky originally meant a man with uncontrolled sexual desire, but it’s come to mean something different now. The colloquial usage is usually negative, it’s usually applied to men who people believe have unfounded confidence. It’s used as a synonym for arrogance. But that’s not really what it means.
To be cocky is to have a cheeky confidence. To know that you’re attractive to people either sexually or for other reasons. To be bold, opinionated, confident but not overconfident. To know that you’re good. But not that you’re better than you really are.
I am cocky – when I’m having a good day anyway. Except cocky isn’t really a term that you apply to women, just as beautiful isn’t a term you apply to men. Mostly I struggle to express my cockiness because I struggle to understand what people find desireable about me. It’s only recently I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s proberbly not all about the way you look, it’s as much about what’s going on in your head and the aura that hangs around you.
So anyway – this Boy, he was cocky. And he enjoyed being looked at. His gaze challenged me to take whatever I wanted from him. In fact, his gaze had been doing that for months before I finally bed him – but I didn’t realise it would get even more intense when he had no clothes on.
It started when he took his own clothes off. A desperation to be gazed at. I’ve been intimate with more than my fair share of men, and I don’t remember the last time that a man took his clothes off before I did. Sure I’ve occasionally removed a man’s clothes first – but it’s usually a sign of submission or even humiliation rather than a willing gesture. To be naked first in a sexual encounter is to be the powerless one. But this was different. A Boy so confident in his own body that he wanted to be looked at. That’s so incredibly unusual in my experience. But I love it. I love being allowed the chance to gaze on a lover. I still find it’s one of those behaviours that is, in many ways, utterly socially unacceptable. I wonder if much of this in our modern world is down to the fact that it forces you to examine yourself and your body because somebody else is. You have to see your image through the eyes of someone else – and men in our society aren’t used to doing that.
I guess it’s photography that really gave me ‘permission’ to feel this way. And, of course, Laura Mulvey’s paper on Visual Pleasure and the male gaze. It’s hard to recondition your social thinking to allow you to let your gaze linger on a man, and it’s even harder to teach yourself to derive sexual pleasure from that after years of being told that ‘women simply aren’t visual creatures.’ But believe me, when you’ve managed to do that and then you meet a man who enjoys it? That’s just… perfect.
Maybe I’ll pick up where I left off with my photography, but this time with a slightly different sort of man. I’ll forgo the bulging muscles and the masculine confidence, and instead I’ll look for a cheeky self-assurance, a firm body, and an aura of desirability. As well as, most importantly, an open-mindedness to being gazed upon by a woman. Because that is one of the hardest things to find.