Two faces

(men’s bodies, references to sex between men, so inadvisable for kids and the sexually modest)

From ads in my e-mail recently, these two male faces, with (lots of) context removed:



The question is how we read these faces, what we see in them, and that turns out to be an enormous question, in part because our responses are a compound of  many different kinds of judgments, all of which are complex and variable in themselves.

The faces are not without context. They are, to start with, faces in poses (these faces are in static photos; if we had them in motion, there would be even more information to cope with).

Suppose we got them in a neutral pose, facing the camera. What we’d be looking at then would be a compound of a basic face overlaid by a facial expression, and we’re accustomed to assigning an interpretation to both of these things. And these interpretations are essentially never unique.

Basic faces. Removing features of a face that are straightforward matters of choice — hair styling and facial hair styling, for example (both notable in the two photos above) — we get something like a basic face as provided by nature (subject to the understanding that some of these are fairly easily alterable — hair color, brow thickness — and some adjustable through more radical means, like surgery).

Somewhat surprisingly, people readily interpret photos of neutral-expression faces (such as are used in IDs, mug shots, and the like) as evoking essential characteristics of the person depicted. They will judge photos of men’s faces as more masculine or more feminine, more or less dependable / trustworthy, more or less violent, and so on. I know men who’ve been told (repeatedly) that their neutral faces in repose mark them as gay, or even that their eyes alone do so.

Such judgments turn on interpretations of a suite of characteristics of parts of the face and head: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, chin, jaw, cheekbones, forehead, adam’s apple, neck, at least.

Facial expressions. And on top of that, several of these parts of the face and head — the eyes and the mouth, especially — can vary and so can convey a variety of emotions. Dilated pupils of the eyes can convey fear, surprise, attraction, and openness / interest (obviously, different emotions in different circumstances), and eyes open wide can convey all of these as well. While narrowed eyes can convey disgust, focus / attention, dominance, suspicion / distrust, or anger (again, different emotions in different contexts).

All this is relevant to #1 and #2. The guy in #1 has dilated pupils and widened eyes, plus a sidelong glance that can be understood as flirtatious (other sideways glances are negative in affect: slant-eye). The combined effect suggesting attraction and interest — in a gay male context, that could read as an open and friendly cruise face.

Meanwhile, the guy in #2, with his narrowed eyes, slightly furrowed brow, and (perhaps questioning) head tilt, can be seen as conveying focused yearning — in a gay male context, that could read as a different sort of cruise face, conveying attentive desire.

None of this interpretation is guaranteed, and some people viewing the faces might have seen other things, even when I tell you that both photos are indeed in a gay male context.

#1 guy is the gay porn actor Beau Butler, as seen on the cover of a recent Raging Stallion DVD Just/Sex (from an ad that appeared in my e-mail on 10/8):

(#3) Jake Nicola (insertive) and Beau Butler (receptive), doing very different facework

From my 8/29/21 posting “Sweetly earnest and pleasantly gay”, on Butler:

Sweetly earnest and pleasantly gay, also, a superhunky muscle bottom (descriptors the man himself laughingly accepts as compliments); a “voracious bottom” (or eager receptive, to put it in more distanced technical terms), as an interviewer put it a while back; and something of a queen (a descriptor he occasionally uses of himself as well as the other “queens in recovery” in his alcoholism support group). This is gay pornstar Beau Butler, who appeared earlier on this blog in my 5/3/21 posting “With knitted brows”, because brow-knitting is one of his Serious Faces, frequently displayed during sex with other men, in particular while he’s being pronged by a Raging Stallion co-worker on a mensroom sink in the porn flick Show Hard.

(#4) Another Butler DVD cover

Touches of fagginess, in the form of bits of symbolic girliness: the big sign is his bodily position, with his back somewhat arched and his butt pushed out (in what’s known as the pinup push — see my 9/28/19 “Gender notes: the pinup push”); girly ax-wielding (I’m not quite sure what makes this unconvincing as butch ax-wielding, but it’s actually what I noticed about the pose first); and, most subtly, his facial expression, not the usual porn-ad cruise of death, but instead conveying alert receptiveness

#2 guy is a model (whose name I don’t know) in a Daily Jocks sale ad of 10/15 for an item from the homowear company PUMP!:

(#5) [ad copy:] The PUMP! All-Access Trunk fits like a typical boxer brief, except the backless rear brings the playfulness, freedom, and added [receptive] sexiness of the Jockstrap. This truly is a new style underwear that is guaranteed to heat things up, for whatever the occasion.

Not to mention the Romantic hair. Truly wonderful hair.

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