Read the message in my face

(Warning: there will eventually be a naked male pornstar, but without his naughty bits visible, plus some mention of feminism and same-sex attraction.)

Two faces that recently caught my eye. I saw them first in a rich context, including the rest of the pose they were in; a background behind the pose; information about the place where the larger photo appeared; and some knowledge about that place and the function of the photo there. Here they are, as bleached of context as I could manage: just the faces:

(#1) Call this person A

(#2) Call this person B

What personas are these two people projecting? What are they like, and what are they doing in the photos?

People will disagree about what they see here — photos don’t tell you what they’re doing; even if they did, they might be self-deluded; and in any case facial expressions are notoriously slippery to interpret — but there are some clear differences at the outset.

First, the facial shapes — A’s more rectangular, B’s more V shaped. In general, B’s face is more delicate, more “feminine”, than A’s. In line with that, A’s face has a bit of facial scruff, while B’s is smooth. So B appears both younger and more twinkish.

Other facial features: B’s lips are a bit fuller than A’s

Then, the facial expressions. B is considerably more engaged with the viewer than A is. B is looking directly into the viewer’s eyes, while A seems to be focused on something beyond the viewer. As people sometimes say, B is looking at us, A is looking through us. People in personal photos, with friends and family as their audience, look at the camera; people in administrative photos (for id’s, licenses, passports, p.r. shots, etc.) look through it. So A’s photo is more impersonal.

On the other hand, A is half-smiling, with modest action at the corners of the mouth, modest crinkles at the corner of the eyes. (A’s more impersonal photo then might be selling A, or presenting A as selling something else; while B is expressing some emotion, not necessarily offering anything). On the other hand, B is unsmiling, expressing dubiousness or truculence: eyebrows slightly raised and knitted, eyes in a V, mouth slightly pursed.

Beyond this, it’s all rich interpretation and story-telling. I might guess that A was a political candidate or an actor, and that the photo was for p.r. Or that B was a queer teenager, dubious about the world; an eyeroll might be coming soon. But those are all great leaps from what we can see.

Note. Something I didn’t notice in the original photos, even when I extracted and blew up the faces, was the fingernails on B’s hand: long and with a dark red polish. That was surprising, given my original assumption that B was a queer guy — perhaps an effeminate guy, but a guy — since everyday effeminacy doesn’t usually come with fingernail polish (yes, yes, I know; the world is complex and varied and offers many surprises; but I think that my generalization, hedged with “everyday” and “usually”, is pretty good).

In any case, the full photo of B came in an assortment of images from Etsy of queer-slogan t-shirts, all of which showed men modeling the tees (or showed just the tees, without any bodies in them), so I assumed that #4 below did too. Eventually, I realized that I was just flat wrong.

The full photos. Corresponding to #1 and #2:

(#3) Not in fact the full photo (from a Hunt for Men gay porn subscription ad in e-mail on 9/11); for the sake of WordPress modesty, I’ve cropped Lee’s fully erect, 8.5″, thick pornstar penis (with a slight angling upwards at the top end)

(#4) From a 9/10 e-mail ad for queer t-shirts available on Etsy, this in-your-face item

The Steven Lee presentation. In #3. I post a lot about facial expressions in gay porn — in those expressions during sex between men, and in the faces they present in ads for gay porn, which are sometimes smiling-buddy faces, sometimes seductive faces, very often heavy cruise faces (conveying dominance). SL’s face in #3 is unusual, like a p.r. photo (advertising his availability in Falcon sex videos and as guide to offerings from studios under the Falcon umbrella).

It might be relevant that SL’s previous job was as a tv weather- and newscaster, for which this presentation would be entirely appropriate.

[In a 1/20/19 interview on the Str8UpGayPorn site, “Exclusive: Gay Porn Newcomer [he was then 27] Steven Lee Talks Forecasting The Weather, Fucking On Camera, And More”, SL noted that this work trained him to work on camera; maintained that he loved the tv work; but added that it was very hard work, with long hours and low pay, so that gay porn was a breeze in contrast. And of course he came equipped that big pornstar dick (and a pleasant face). Other stats from Next Door Studios: that dick is cut;  he’s 6’2″ tall; he’s a top; and his body type is described as “gymnast”.]

A taste of SL at work: a literally steamy still from one of his flicks:

(#5) Cropped for modesty again, but with some teasing pubic hair left for the photo’s intended audience

i’m not interested. Once I started analyzing the presentation in #4, from Etsy, I searched for the source of the item on the site: an Etsy contributor who provides items on “Feminism, Queerness, Social Justice”. She turns out to have collected a gigantic assortment of stuff for sale, so it took some time trying out various collections of keywords to find another item with #4’s model in it. Then, this delightful find, “for Lesbians and Sapphics”:


(#6) So: presenting as a really cute lesbian, complete with the secret codewords girl in red — the recent girl-on-girl counterpart to the antique queer friend of Dorothy

I’ll get back to girl in red in just a moment, but first a note on the slogan in #4, which appears in t-shirt designs from (at least) other Etsy suppliers, Zazzle, Redbubble, and (my favorite) Shirtcent:


do you listen to girl in red? From Wikipedia:

Girl in Red (stylized in lower case) is the indie pop music project of [gay] Norwegian singer-songwriter and record producer Marie Ulven Ringheim (born 16 February 1999) [known as Marie Ulven]. She rose to prominence with her homemade bedroom pop songs about romance and mental health featured on the early EPs … Her debut studio album If I Could Make It Go Quiet was released through AWAL on 30 April 2021.

Girl in Red has been cited as a queer icon

… her debut single “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” [was released] on SoundCloud in November 2016

Two developments of Ulven’s work:

— Haley Margo’s album 2020 Do You Listen to Girl in Red, with the line “Does she listen to “girl in red”?”, conveying ‘Is she attracted to other girls?’.

— a 2021 graphic novel based on her life:


How the mind does wander.


5 Responses to “Read the message in my face”

  1. John Baker Says:

    Arnold, you may be interested in the article “Do You Listen to Girl in Red?”: How a Queer Pop Artist Became TikTok Code, at Apparently the code phrase peaked in popularity last year.

    It strikes me that it isn’t a very good code phrase. Girl in Red is just not sufficiently famous, and apparently many lesbians have answered “no” without realizing that they were thereby turning down a potential relationship.

    As the article mentions, there is a song of that title, “Do You Listen to Girl in Red,” by Haley Margo. I like it quite a bit better than the actual music of Girl in Red, but then I’m a heterosexual male, so hardly in Girl in Red’s target audience.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Well, a lot of queer guys didn’t get “Are you a friend of Dorothy?” back in the Stone Age.

      As for songs, the Haley Margo is a brilliant pop song; I hope it wins some awards. girl in red’s songs, not so much: earnest but not inspired.

      A very long time ago, 1984 to be exact, I shared a lesbian friend S’s Palo Alto apartment for a summer. She advertised for a suitable (female) roommate to replace me when I left at the end of the summer, and then found that her ESL teaching job kept her from actually interviewing applicants, so she asked me to take over. Her idea was that I knew her tastes almost as well as she did, and anyway a new roommate should be able to cope with things like the occasional queer boy in the woodwork.

      An interesting process. Only a couple of them just basically fled from the situation, many were edgy, but a couple were cool with it, and one thoroughly enjoyed it. Well, I did too. I painted a picture of S for her, and extracted a picture of her to tell S. They had a deal-closing meeting on a weekend, and all went smoothly thereafter.

      • arnold zwicky Says:

        Follow-up to the interviewing-lesbian roommates story: thanks to S, that summer I could probably have written an M.A. thesis on Women’s Music, with special reference to the lesbian wing of the movement, highlighting k.d. lang and Ferron.

        Separately from that, I shared a deep enthusiasm for Sweet Honey in the Rock, and an enjoyment of Holly Near, with Ann (my wife) and Jacques (my husband-equivalent). We went to concerts together. In the case of Sweet Honey, some people found it odd to see three white folks, a straight woman and her two gay male lovers, at their concerts — but Sweet Honey spoke to all three of us, separately and together.

        That was, oh dear, roughly 40 years ago.

  2. kenru Says:

    Maybe because I have such a twink boy fetish, I was certain that #2 was a girl, although almost my type. I’m never fooled by even the most convincingly fem drag queens, also. I don’t have reliable gaydar; but whatever the radar for picking up gender is called, that I seem to have.

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