Reading the face, reading the body

Reading the face and body that nature gave me — what do these features mean? and where did they come from? — and the face and body that I have fashioned, and re-fashioned, over time — what was I aiming for, and why? and what did others make of it? — and my face and body as I use them in action, presenting myself to the (sociocultural) world around me — what sorts of persons do I think I am? and what sorts of persons do others see in me? (Yes, persons. Like everyone, I am a conglomerate of identities and personas.)

Well, yes, life, the universe, and everything. But I can bash at a bit of the answer — if not 42, then maybe 2, or 3, or even 7, or at least some satisfying ancillary information about 2, 3, or 7.

The raw material for these musings is pictures of me collected in my 5/20 posting “Forty facial years”:

1958 through 1995, so not quite 40 years. For my face, in 8 shots, the last two providing more of my body as well. Today just the visuals, with little commentary, beyond locating the photos in time, place, and occasion.

(also, significantly, noting facets of my appearance and of the way I’m presented in the photos).

More photos: 70s Guy. One addition to the 20th-century photos in my 5/20 posting, in between #3 (from 1972) and #4 (from 1982) — 70s Guy, from a newspaper story about my 1977 Fulbright grant to Sussex Univ.:

(#1) Oh, the hair. And the pretty eyes. The photographer (a guy of 18 or 19) openly flirted with me (I was 36 at the time), which was gratifying to me on several levels, starting with the fact that his gaydar pinged on me when I wasn’t aware that I was broadcasting signals

That’s a handsome — and at the time fashionable — deep blue shirt I’m wearing, but there are no slogans or symbols anywhere on me; I have a “light” voice — a consequence of a fairly shallow oral cavity, like my dad — but not an identifiably Gay Voice; I don’t do any stereotyped gay eye things (wide eyes, slant eyes, eye rolling); nor do I do any of the stereotyped gay posture or gesture things (cocked hip, hands out on hips, limp wrist). The photographer was in fact cute, but at the outset I took him to be straight, and I don’t ever come onto straight guys, so I gave him no intense over-long gaze, didn’t check out his crotch, didn’t comment on his looks — but then he did all those things to me, so we were suddenly in Gay Flirt Mode, which is a nice place to be. Totally unserious, but pleasurable for both parties. (Yes, he told me that I had a lovely smile. I told him that if he wanted to get on the other side of the camera, he could be a model.)

(To locate the photo in my life: when it was taken, I had both a wife and a husband-equivalent (who was my wife’s lover as well as mine) and was openly living with them in a married triple. While I was in Brighton on that Fulbright (during which I gave invited papers all around the UK and wrote quite a lot), I picked up not one, but two, boyfriends, almost incomprehensibly different in their social and sexual identities, sharing little beyond their passions for kissing and for lovingly pronging me as often as possible; as it happens, my wonderfully desirable ass is actually relevant to my discussion below. Life is complicated. Things happen.)

More photos: 21st-Century Guy. Photos #5 (1986) an #6 (ca. 1991) in the 5/20 posting were for a long time my go-to photos for publicity. But eventually you can’t get away with passing off photos of yourself from 20 to 40 years ago, so I got a new go-to photo for the 21st century, a photo posed for photographer Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky:

(#2) Gone gray, still the pretty eyes, looking contemplative, in a long-favorite shirt, with a hand position that some have taken to be subtly faggy, which would be fine by me

The EDZ photo has now been used in publicity for the Linguistic Society of America’s Arnold Zwicky Award, recognizing “LGBTQ+ linguists who have made significant contributions to the discipline, the society, or the wider LGBTQ+ community through research, programming, activism, public service, or significant publications in LGBTQ+ linguistics”; the first awardee, Kirby Conrod, was announced in October — see my 10/21/21 posting “LSAZ1”.

More photos: the Ancient Butch Faggot. Re-fashioned as a tough old guy, flagrantly, uncompromisingly, queer, but smiling with the eyes, those sweet crinkly eyes:

(#3) The buzzcut (butch, but also an old man’s easy-care haircut), the silver-eagle eyebrows (Arnold is etymologically ‘sea-eagle strong’), the crinkly eyes: he’s taking no shit, embracing any slur you want to sling at him, and also really sweet (from a 12/5/21 photo by Kim Darnell)

Apparently I go around smiling with my eyes whether I intend to or not, so I give off huge happy vibes, which total strangers respond to by smiling back at me and saying hi, no matter what in-your-face t-shirt I’m wearing, no matter that I’m an old fat disabled guy using a walker to get around. (People tend to avert their eyes from the confrontational, the old, the fat, and (especially) the disabled, but apparently radiating niceness can counteract all of that. And then that makes me even happier, so we’re all in a positive feedback loop.) A week ago, out on the street, a little kid in a stroller waved wildly at me, wreathed in smiles, proclaiming “You have a stroller — like me!” Despite the fact that I was wearing a 100%-Certified Queer t-shirt, her mother smiled happily at me too. The high point of my day.

Meanwhile, it took me many years to realize that wearing a FAGGOT or GAY AS FUCK t-shirt out on the street seems to significantly decrease the likelihood that asshole straight guys will harass you with faggot or cocksucker catcalls.

What nature gave me. In face, body, and physical and mental states and abilities. Clearly, I’m not going to frame this as what God gave me, but I’ve also chosen not to frame it as what I was born with, picking out congenital features, states, and abilities, even though that framing is (somewhat) better than a framing in terms of genetic inheritance: it allows for epigenetic effects, and also for genetic effects that are the result of random alterations in genes, rather than inheritance from the assortment of parental genes.

But clearly an enormous number of things that nature gives you are not present at birth, but are instead, potentials, which will (if not balked) unfold at various stages in your development or depend on your having certain kinds of experiences to unfold. (Well, actually it’s all about proteins, but I’ll continue talking about things at this much higher level of abstraction.)

Of the first sort, there are the long-delayed developments that take place at puberty, when striking individual differences manifest themselves. With puberty, I got the very hairy body you see in photos #7 and #8 in my earlier posting, a strongly musky body smell (“essence of locker room”, according to one admirer), and the high sex drive that been a fact of my life for 70 years now.

Meanwhile, I had at birth an Alpine nose (indicating paternity for Arnold M. Zwicky, Sr.). (All of this put together means that when I went to teach in China in the fall of 1985, I fit perfectly into the Chinese stereotype of American men: big-nosed, hairy, and smelly. I couldn’t do anything about the first two, but I did  shower a lot and use lots of neutral deodorant, so as not to offend my Chinese hosts.)

On the other hand, when puberty kicked in, I did not develop an externally visible Adam’s apple, conventionally taken to be an indicator of manhood. (This might be an epigenetic effect, but in any case it was something else I shared with my father.)

I also had at birth white blond hair (which lasted for several years, until the dark brown hair that nature gave me grew in in its place) and a round “baby face” (which gradually lengthened, became heart-shaped, and developed the receding chin that nature gave me — a chin that it is conventionally taken to be an indicator of physical weakness, hence of low cultural masculinity, hence of cultural femininity).

Meanwhile, when the brown hair grew in, it was just as extraordinarily fine (that is, the head hairs were very thin) as my baby hair, and so it has been all my life. (When my facial hair came in at puberty, it was coarse, and fast-growing, all macho.) Such very fine, silky hair is conventionally feminine — but no one, female or male, on either side of my family was known to have such hair; it’s what nature gave me, but  we don’t know how.

Similarly, the relatively big round eyes (spaced fairly far apart) of a “baby face” also persisted. On the one hand, many other boys’ eyes ended up being relatively small in their faces, relatively narrow, and spaced fairly close together; such eyes are conventionally judged to be masculine (and mine as more feminine). On the other hand, eyes like mine have the attractions of the eyes of baby animals, so they get adorableness points (at least from female observers), and they aren’t seen as watchful, tough, competitive, or aggressive.

The lowered upper eyelids — the “sleepy eyes” effect — seem to be culturally associated with seductiveness (lowered “bedroom eyes”), hence femininity.

Moving away from my head for a moment, nature also gave me a small-boned body (unlike my dad’s much larger frame); what turned out (at puberty) to be a dick on the small end of normal (just like my dad’s), which to many American men’s eyes (both gay and straight) counts as deridably small; a cute muscular ass, widely admired and desired by gay men; and big feet, sort of out of scale with the rest.

In childhood, my body pingponged unaccountably between thin and fat. Starting in 1969, I began working out to improve my musculature and state of mind, and underwent the first of the painful, harrowing diets that took me down by 70 pounds and kept me there for decades. Crafting the guy you see in photos #7 and #8 in yesterday’s posting. Who’s long gone.

I say jokingly that it was my lean muscular body, my hairiness, my strong masculine smell, and my eminently prongable ass — three gifts of nature plus one personal achievement — that got Jacques in the door, and then he fell in love with me, but the actual story is pretty much the other way around: a deep friendship based on shared moral values and an admiration for each other’s characters and abilities was then ignited, quite suddenly, by mutual sexual desire.

What nature gave me: abilities, states of body and mind. Just a sampling. For one thing, I’m a supertaster, perceiving various tastes (bitter, in particular) with great sensitivity. And I’m a supertaster who embraces these tastes — a fair number of supertasters avoid the assault of extreme tastes —  not only sweet and salty (which human beings are pretty much primed for) but also bitter and sour and spicy-hot (don’t argue with me here about whether this counts as a taste; I’m talking percepts, not physiology or chemistry) and the family of aromatic tastes and especially the taste family umami / savory / meaty / fermented. Along with this goes a heightened sense of smell, again both sensitive and embracing extremes.

So I’ve been an adventurous eater from childhood on, and as an adult, keen on bodily smells. Hey, it’s a thing.

On the other hand, I can’t groove my tongue.

As soon as I was able to show the abilities, it became clear that I was eerily intelligent (and intellectually curious as well) and not at all gifted in physical abilities. And in personality: amiable, empathetic, and unaggressive. A notably sweet child (this was much remarked on by adults, not always approvingly; my dad was often counseled by other men to toughen me up, advice he simply ignored, in his own amiable way).

At some point it became clear that my special abilities included a range of musical abilities (and the accompanying enthusiasm) without parallel anyone could find on either side of the family. The folk theory of these things is that all abilities are more or less literally genetic, so a source had to be found. My Swiss grandmother was a Waelti, and someone found a claim that the Waeltis were related to the German composer Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826). So in the end everyone was satisfied that I wasn’t a musical cuckoo in my family’s nest after all, but was instead a Swiss-American embodiment of Weber. I fully realized at the age of 10 or so that this was a preposterous notion, but entertaining, and of course I studied up on Weber.

Fashioning my body and presenting myself. What have you done with what nature gave you?

What a shift between the spring of 1958 (#1 in yesterday’s posting, showing a smiling high school kid) and the fall (#2 there, showing a dogged attempt at a serious Princeton man). Gone are the smile and the crewcut and the somewhat playful sportcoat and tie, on with the earnest glasses and the business haircut and the Harris tweed coat and dark striped club tie — which were soon followed by blue button-down Oxford cloth shirts and (not visible in such a photo) cordovan Bass Weejuns. For serious academic occasions, the Harris tweed and Oxford cloth shirts stayed with me for about 50 years (they are sturdy, they are handsome), but after Princeton the club ties gave way to beautiful Liberty of London ties, the serious eyeglasses to more amiable ones, I turned longhaired, bearded, and mustached, largely clothed in t-shirts and jeans, and not infrequently barefoot.

Back in the fall of 1958, I wanted, somewhat pathetically, to fit into Princeton, to be one of the guys. But I was in fact temperamentally unsuited to being one of the guys, so there was a world of hurt in front of me. Meanwhile, I tried to dress and groom myself for the part. Eventually, afterwards, I pretty much said fuck it all — well, it was the simultaneously fabulous and truly godawful 60s and 70s and I was a bunch of different kinds of activist and found my own eccentric families.

Meanwhile, I was collaborating in raising a child and running a household that welcomed and entertained guests on pretty much a daily basis; slowly and painfully coming to terms with my homosexuality; achieving a fast-track academic career (Ph.D. in three years, full professorship just before my 30th birthday); serving officially in a large number of academic organizations, institutions, and agencies; and teaching a whole hell of a lot of stuff. And more (d’ya remember the married triple?). Becoming a giant fruitcake of identities, as I will put it below.

Amiability. Some of this I chalk up to what nature gave me, some was certainly modeling on my parents’ example, some was probably an attempt to fit into worlds that didn’t seem well made for me. But there it was, and still is.

The outward and visible signs of my amiability are my various smiles, from a modest Duchenne smile to full-out crinkly-eyed smiles that radiate joy to other people. (I think my dad smiled even more than I do; I’ve been unable to find a single picture with him in it in which he’s not smiling — no matter what everyone else is doing.)

From my 4/14/19 posting “The taXXXman will come for you”:

The Wikipedia article on smiles introduces another dimension of smiling… :

A smile is formed primarily by flexing the muscles at the sides of the mouth. Some smiles include a contraction of the muscles at the corner of the eyes, an action known as a Duchenne smile. Smiles performed without the eye contraction may be perceived as insincere.

… The Duchenne smile has been described as “smizing”, as in “smiling with the eyes”.

Many of my Duchenne smiles are concealed in photos, hiding behind the corners of my eyeglasses. But they’re there.

A higher level of the Duchenne smile: crinkly eyes. In material directed to women, these are, sigh, almost invariably classified as a type of crow’s feet (‘(compound) noun crow’s feet: a branching wrinkle at the outer corner of a person’s eye’ (NOAD)), treated as unwelcome signs of aging, and viewed as wrinkles to be eliminated with special creams and lotions.

From the Medium website: “The eyes have it” by Michelle Money on 12/23/18:

When we’re truly happy, we not only smile but also crinkle the corners of our eyes in a “crow’s feet” pattern. But when people fake a smile, they usually forget about their eyes.

(#4) [photo caption 1:] A genuine smile includes crinkled eyes?

(#5) [photo caption 2:] Notice George Clooney’s crow feet. This is a genuine smile.

Man, do I have crinkles these days.

The giant fruitcake of identities, and Shimmer Man. I return to the final two photos from yesterday’s posting:

(#6) AZ as hunk, in Jacques’s and my Palo Alto living room in January 1993, at an ad hoc gathering of some soc.motss-folk; lean and hairy, lightly muscled; soc.motss sleeveless tee, beautiful surfer shorts

J and I were recently back from the Linguistic Society of America’s annual meetings, in Los Angeles that year, at which I delivered my Presidential address and we hosted a giant OUT In Linguistics party. I was already into teaching my winter quarter classes at Stanford. J was slipping further into his dementia and needed constant watching and gentle care.

(#7) More AZ as hunk, September 1995, at a party during the motss.con — the annual soc.motss con — that year at a hotel in DC; this time in an OUT In Linguistics t-shirt, looking very happy — it was a wonderful party — and about as fey as I ever look

Much more complex. I took time out from the motss.con to give a talk at Georgetown Univ. and to visit the Linguistics Society of America office (just off Dupont Circle) on business. I got to explore parts of gay DC that were new to me. My fall quarter classes at Ohio State would begin just after I got back to Columbus from the con. J was back in Columbus being watched over by friends; three years after this, I would sell the Columbus house, move full-time to Palo Alto and put J into a dementia care facility there. Meanwhile, my DC time was so filled with event that I wasn’t able to spend my customary satisfying evening of slutsex at the DC Club Baths for Men.

The theme here, from my 4/24/22: posting “The fruitcake and the meze”:

The fruitcake is a metaphor, applied first of all here to my 4/20 posting “Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen!” — a huge, complex mixture of writing about joy, playfulness, sex, story-telling, … and, oh Christ, much more. All compounded together in such a way that no individual topic can easily be pulled out of the mixture. Like a fruitcake.

(You then get the allusion to (offensive) fruit ‘male homosexual’ for free.)

And then this metaphor applied to personal identities, most pointedly mine. Also enormously complex mixtures … I am in fact a giant fruitcake of identities, and so are you (just not the same ones).

An alternative metaphor for the multiplicity of identities. A prole and a distinguished university professor (and a social activist, and more). Like the promiscuous homosexual (an identity polished as an art form) and museum curator (and wonderful poet, and more) Frank O’Hara, encountered in my “joy and rapture” posting — O’Hara once likened his presentation of himself to a truckdriver in drag (at once both crudely masculine and flagrantly queer).

Like SNL’s Shimmer: both a floor wax and a dessert topping — so we all suspect that if Shimmer is both of these things, it’s probably a lot of other stuff as well (perhaps an effective scouring powder, but surely a sleep aid, a hypnagogic, maybe an aphrodisiac).

I am Shimmer, hear me roar!
Floor wax, dessert topping, and more

And so was born Shimmer Man, a hero of a thousand identities, all rolled into one.

But, in any case, Shimmer as metaphor.

2 Responses to “Reading the face, reading the body”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    On the other hand, I can’t groove my tongue.

    Does this mean that you can’t whistle? I have that disability (as did my father); my husband John thought at one point that he could teach me to whistle,. but when it came to telling me how to position my tongue, it became evident that my tongue simply wouldn’t take that position.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Indeed, I can’t whistle. Or aim spit with any accuracy. Tongue-grooving is pretty straightforwardly genetic — the grooving gene is dominant. On both whistling and spitting (significant Boy Abilities) I got years of “You’re just not trying hard enough, and anyway you’re doing it all wrong” (one of the deeply sad themes of my life) before I discovered the facts of tongue-grooving, and then I was seriously pissed off. (I was being told to fly, when I had no wings; then when I failed, I was told it was all my fault.)

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