Felix d’Eon: on normalizing gay

On Wednesday, in “The news for penguins and, oh yes, penises” on this blog, image #5 has a “Love Rocket” image by the artist Felix d’Eon. Now on AZBlogX I’ve posted seven of d’Eon’s gay gay gay works. Here’s an eighth, which is penisless:

“The Little Death 4”, in a series showing men’s O-faces, their faces at the moment of ejaculation, of le petit mort.

The artist’s statement on his website, with one portion boldfaced:

Felix was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, to a French father and a Mexican mother. At a very young age, he and his family moved to Southern California, where he spent most of his childhood and adolescence. He attended college at the Academy of Art University, in San Francisco, and subsequently lived in San Francisco until 2010, when he returned to his native Mexico. He now live in Mexico City with his mini schnauzer, Caperucita Satori. While home is now Mexico, he travels extensively, and has lived at various times in Florence, Tennessee, Bangkok, Oahu, New Orleans, and in various cities around Mexico.

He is enraptured by various art-historical styles, such as Edwardian fashion and children’s book illustration, golden-era American comics, and Japanese Edo printmaking. In his work, he attempts to make the illusion of antiquity complete, using antique papers and careful research as to costume, set, and style. His goal is perfect verisimilitude. He subverts their “wholesome” image and harnesses their style to a vision of gay love and sensibility. D’Eon treats vintage illustrative styles as a rhetorical strategy, using their language of romance, economic power, and aesthetic sensibility as a tool with which to tell stories of historically oppressed and marginalized queer communities. By painting images of queer love, seduction, sex, and romance, the gay subject is stripped of its taboo nature. For unlike artists such as Tom of Finland, whose work is a celebration of the outlaw status of queer sexuality, d’Eon’s work seeks to normalize the marginal, and place the heretofore taboo subject at the center, through the use of the rhetorical styles of the historically empowered and mainstream. In the artists work, the illustrative imagery of the past does not cease to be wholesome through the inclusion of gay sex and sensibilities. He simply expands the notion of what wholesome is, erasing shame and celebrating desire.

d’Eon’s works adopt the styles of their models, so they are wildly heterogeneous. #2 (“Princeton Boys”) is in comic-book style, gay comic style in fact (with an enormous penis). #3 (“Leather Views”) depicts a leather orgy in Japanese scroll style (with quite small penises). #6 (“Adventures in the Scouting”) mimics the artless, rather amateurish, drawings in scouting handbooks (though the central image is of masturbation, by a boy apparently working on getting a merit badge in Manual). #7 (“Boy in a Boat”) echoes the very common rowing theme in fine art (by Winslow Homer, for instance).

There’s a nice YouTube video (7:13 long) about d’Eon’s life and work, which you can watch here.

(Back on d’Eon’s page, we learn, in his Latino portfolio, that twink has been borrowed wholesale into Spanish, as tüinc.)

You will have figured out by now that, however owlishly serious d’Eon’s motives might be, a great deal of his work is funny: XXX-rated comic artworks (compare my XXX-rated comic collages).

On the boldfaced passage above, with its contrast between “outlaw”, defiant Tom of Finland and “normalizing” d’Eon. It seems to me that d’Eon creates plenty of works that many would see as defiant and transgressive (like “Princeton Boys”, with its porn-style fellatio). As for ToF, his early drawings might have originated as workings-out of his own fetishistic preoccupations, but he moved beyond that to works that serve as pointed critiques of men’s attitudes about masculinity (via exaggeration) and also as incursions of gay men, male-male affection, and mansex into public view, normalizing them there — and a great many of these drawings are really funny.

The passage has a use of normalize to mean ‘render normal that which was previously deemed beyond acceptable bounds’ (in the wording used by the American Dialect Society when the word was nominated for 2016 Word of the Year (in the January 6th voting this year, it came in second, to dumpster fire). That usage goes beyond the meaning ‘bring or return to a normal condition or state’ (NOAD2) and it goes hand in hand with the use of the adjective normal to mean ‘unremarkable, acceptable’ rather than merely ‘onstituting or conforming to a type or standard; regular, usual, typical; ordinary, conventional’ (OED3 (Dec. 2003)). Neither the extension of normal nor the extension of normalize has made it into the OED yet, though both extensions are now widespread. I’ll refer to these extensions together as “innovative normal(ize)”, abbreviated IN.

The first point is that IN appears in two very different contexts: political and homosexual.

Political IN has spread virally in recent months, thanks to the activities of the politician (anong other things) [REDACTED]. Some discussion in a 11/23/16 Wired piece by Emily Dreyfus, “The Normalization of ‘Normalize’ Is a Sign of the New Normal” (the title manages to get both innovative extensions into a single sentence). Dreyfus quotes me in the piece, on the basis of an interview she did with me some months ago. Now I’m about to do, today, another interview, with a different reporter working for a different publication, on this very topic, so political IN is very much on my mind. When I’ve finished with that interview, I’ll post a long piece here on IN, focused on political IN.

Homosexual IN is exemplified in d’Eon’s statement above about normalizing queer sexuality, and in (fortuitous find) a teaser head in yesterday’s NYT about Bollywood actor Karan Johar, who “has done more to normalize homosexuality in India than anyone else” (hat tip to Emily Rizzo). It goes back some time — I can vouch for that, since I’m one of the people involved in contentions over “the normalization of homosexuality” — but how far I can’t say, because gauging that would require searching through large numbers of documents in great detail, something I don’t have the resources to do.

The homo-hostile churches — in particular, evangelical / fundamentalist churches, the Roman Catholic church, and the LDS church (which united in 2008 to push through Proposition 8 in California, a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage) — have maintained for some time maintained that people like me are trying to “normalize” (what they believe to be) the grievous sin of homosexuality, an idea they absolutely reject, because they see us as directly opposing (what they understand to be) the Word of God. And people like me — I’ve come to defiantly refer to myself as a fag (flying the fag flag, as it were) — say, yes, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do, we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it. I pointedly celebrate same-sex relationships of all kinds, from public displays of same-sex affection though same-sex marriage and all the way up to same-sex sexual acts of all kinds. (I’ve adopted the position that oral sex — performed by woman or man on woman or man — should simply be considered (like manual sex) as everyday, ordinary, unremarkable sex, that is as normal. In fact I take the same position with respect to anal sex, but I recognize that I have some work to do to educate people, especially straight men, about anal sex as a pleasurable act for both participants, as an act of love.)

More to come on IN in political and homosexual contexts, and in the context of accepting racial, ethnic, and religious minorities as fully and unremarkably “American” (rather than “foreign”) — that is, as normal.



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