Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Impromptu



An impromptu, sunlit blinds/lying on the bed selfie. The focus came out a little soft, but we'll call it a romantic, Hamiltonesque effect. It looks good, anyway.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Mortality

(Not to be confused with morality :-p)

The standard process by which one may attain a certain measure of immortality (in a metaphorical sense) is through procreation - passing on one's genes. But while I'm not interested in procreation, for a number of reasons, I am nonetheless not immune to the very human desire for some part of me to outlast my limited time as a conscious being on this plane of existence. The next alternative is to create some great work that will be passed down through the ages, and talked about for generations to come. People like Shakespeare, Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Socrates - these are people who are still remembered because, during their lives, they contributed to human culture and understanding in profound and lasting ways. Granted, geniuses of this level are few and far between, and the chances of me attaining that kind of status are much slimmer than the chance that one of my sperm might fertilize an ovum (given the opportunity). I'm ambitious, but I'm not delusional.

Then again, the cult of celebrity seems (at least) to be growing in modern civilization, particularly with the advent of more convenient recording technologies, and diversified forms of entertainment. Art moguls, movie directors, authors, innovators, philanthropists - these are people who have made a name for themselves by their contributions to modern society (such as they are). And it seems as though there are more famous people now than ever before. Of course, it could be because they're all still recent, and we haven't had a chance to forget them yet. Nobody can say how many of them will be remembered far into the future, and it could be said that when everybody's famous, no one is famous, because fewer of them will stand out. But, at least on a localized scale, it seems as if anyone can attain a little bit of fame these days, especially through viral marketing.

What I want, though, isn't so much fame, as respect. I want to contribute something worthwhile to our culture. Not through celebrity endorsement, but conceptual innovation. I'd love to do that through art, even though I don't consider myself on the level of a world class artist. But even though I'm not the best, if my voice is unique enough, and if I can fill an important niche that nobody else is filling, or be some kind of visionary pioneer of a new and valuable way of thinking, demonstrated or communicated through my art - well, maybe I could be remembered for that someday.

I think about my artistic instinct. From the beginning of this journey, I've been inspired by the profound impact that beauty has on me. In my personal experience, nothing in life is quite like it. It stops me in my tracks. (And sometimes, in this erotophobic society, I have to hide my reaction to it - like John Preston in Equilibrium - which causes the anguish that informs much of my more scathing rants). It's a difficult thing to communicate, as it is so intensely personal, but all I want to do through my art is make other people feel that feeling that is so familiar to me - when you see a body, a person, that is so exquisite that you have to catch your breath. I want the rest of the world to know what that's like. (So they will understand how cruel it is to force others to suppress that feeling, until it morphs into self-loathing). I know that beauty is subjective, and there are countless artists already out there pursuing this muse, but in spite of that, I feel like I must have an outlet through which my own personal voice can be heard - to contribute my own personal understanding of what's beautiful, especially where that deviates from the mainstream.

Will it last? Will this expression of my voice and my vision endure the test of time? I obviously can't say. It wouldn't stop me if the answer were no, but I still hold out hope that maybe - even if I haven't hit on it yet, then someday - I might tap in to something universal. Something that isn't necessarily tied down to a certain place or a certain time, that doesn't require a highly specialized set of interests to appreciate. I know there are probably few people (relative to the human population) that appreciate eroticized portraits of feminized males (although I'd hope that my sex-positive, gender-bending approach could be appreciated from a more generalized, progressive viewpoint as it challenges conservative social standards, and not just as porn), but I am a human being with a body. And we all have bodies. And bodies - especially the beautiful ones, by whatever standards you're using - have been admired since time immemorial. Michelangelo's David is just a sculpture of a body, but we still admire it today.

Then again, there's a cynical voice in the back of my head that whispers to me about the transience of life, amidst the vast, lonely emptiness of space and time that constitutes our universe. Even if I could accomplish the impossible task of creating a work of art that every human being that will ever live would appreciate, it's not unreasonable to assume that some day mankind will become extinct. And even if there are (or will be) other intelligent life forms out there somewhere in the interstellar expanses, and even if they were to cross our path against all odds, like two goldfish in the deep blue sea, who's to say that they would be capable of appreciating any of what humans have created?

We send signals out into space, arrogantly assuming that alien races will be able to understand our symphonies, much less appreciate them. What if they don't hear sound the way we hear it? What if their eyes don't pick up the same frequencies of light that ours do? What if they don't even have eyes? Their bodies will almost certainly be different than ours (in spite of what Star Trek's limited fx budget insists), so even the most profound nude portrait of a human will be rendered meaningless to them - as meaningless as alien porn would be to us. There's a reason animals can walk around us naked without anybody throwing a fuss, and that hardcore photos of snails having sex don't require a mature filter on Flickr.

Furthermore, that alien race, too, will eventually die out. Like the great works of Ozymandias, all that will be left of life in the universe will be a great ruin, but with nobody left to remember what it once stood for. And in time, the universe, too, will collapse. If, by chance, a new universe emerges in its place, and, by astronomical odds, new life forms develop, there will be no evidence that we had ever existed - not even a footprint - and no way for us to communicate with them. And all our mortal toils will have definitively been for naught. Why, then, should any of us continue?

I'll tell you. Because we exist. Maybe just for a little while. But right now, you and I - we exist. And we can feel. We can feel joy, and we can feel sorrow. We cannot escape the sadness that will hound us and haunt us throughout our lives, but we can try our best to offset it with as much happiness as we can grab a hold of. And whatever foolish trick it was that evolution played on us to make us delight in the pleasures of the flesh, well, I derive a great joy from appreciating the aesthetic sensibilities of the human form. And I'm going to revel in that. I'm going to celebrate the things in life that make us feel good, and share that with anyone who cares to join me. Because pretty soon, we all have to give it up, and return to the eternal night of non-existence. But it doesn't have to be today. And in the meantime, I'm going to have some fun. While I still can.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Outfit of the Day (#ootd)

I seem to be in a bit of an introspective/analytical mood lately - there's nothing like the sophisticated thrill of turning over a concept in your mind, examining it from every angle, and putting together a framework for it. (Am I a nerd or what?). There's more to come, but I like to split up my rambling thoughts with some easy-to-appreciate photos, whenever convenient. You know, for the sake of digestion. Here's an outfit I wore this past weekend:


I had the unusual problem of having to dress for a trip both to the mall and to the park to engage in some athletics - two very different situations requiring very different fashion approaches. It's fun to dress up for the mall; not, like, formal gown dress-up, but just your "Saturday best" - things like cute tops, leg-baring shorts, and primped hair. I always enjoy seeing the way girls dress for the mall, to go shopping with friends or flirting with boys. In fact, one of my dreams is to set up a kiosk offering to take portraits immortalizing all that style on display (I'm a firm believer that wherever you are, local talent is every bit as stunning as the professional models). I just don't know how profitable that would be - not that I'd be doing it for the money, as opposed to the great picture opportunities, but I can't exactly afford to blow all my savings on a pipe dream.

Needless to say, there's a certain amount of pressure to step up your fashion game at the mall (seeing as I've kind of grown accustomed to being the one who turns heads). On the other hand, when you're dressing to play sports, you don't want to wear anything too fancy. It has to be practical, because you're going to be moving around, and sweating in the hot sun. (Naturally, playing sports after a trip to the mall works a lot better than the reverse, without having a shower break in between). So I compromised with this really cute silver-sequined volleyball shirt I bought at Justice (because it's really not fair that girls are expected to outgrow their "sparkles and unicorns" phase - I never will) a while back, since it was volleyball I was going to be practicing. I coupled it with my usual shorts (barely visible below the hem of this long shirt), and a simple but stylish pair of flip flops that I could easily remove before stepping out onto the sand.

I have to say it was an enjoyable success, culminating in a refreshing ice cream run! That is, even if I'm still a little sore on account of my inadvisable decision to perform some impromptu gymnastics without proper spotting (or training, along with the fact that I'm not as young as I feel on the inside)... Still, I wouldn't take it back for the world!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Nudism's Appeal to Nature

It is not surprising, but nudists are often guilty (and I am no exception) of using the "appeal to nature" in justifying the validity of their lifestyle - surely, you've heard the mantra "nude is natural" at some point or other. This, however, is a logical fallacy in which one equates that which is natural with being good (and, on the other hand, that which is unnatural with being bad). To illustrate why this constitutes an error of reasoning, one need only imagine something natural that is bad (e.g., disease), or something unnatural that is good (e.g., modern medicine).

Of course, it's possible to get caught up in a web of circular logic, and start defining anything that is good as being natural ("it's natural to put marshmallows in your hot cocoa!"), or anything that is bad as being unnatural ("the way he leered at me was just unnatural!"). At this point, it becomes increasingly apparent that all of this depends upon our subjective definition of what "natural" means. After all, man is a part of nature, so what separates his cities from the tunnels of an ant colony? From a certain perspective, there is nothing in this world that is truly unnatural, except perhaps that which is supernatural (if there is such a thing).

Colloquially speaking, if we are not concerned with splitting hairs, most people have a rough understanding of what is natural versus what is, shall we say, man-made. And much of the appeal of nudism, it is argued, rests on the fact that it is the natural state of affairs to be naked (as you were born), as opposed to wearing clothes (which have been meticulously designed by man). Instinctively, I feel that this is good reasoning, but at the same time, I know that it constitutes a logical fallacy. If "natural" is not a synonym for "good", then nudism can't be good because it's natural. If you're having trouble swallowing this point, don't be concerned - unfortunately, our brains are not wired to prioritize logic over emotion. Just think of the many things we do that are not natural, that we nevertheless prefer over the natural alternatives.

For example, if the natural state of dress (i.e., nudity) is ideal, then what about the state of our bodies? Is it natural to pursue a fitness regimen? How about basic hygiene? You could argue that even animals exercise (especially when they're not leading unnaturally sedentary lifestyles) and bathe (albeit without soap), but what about personal grooming habits? Is it natural to trim a beard, or shave the hair underneath our arms, or should we just let it grow out? What about a simple haircut? Consider our living environment. Tent camping is pretty close to the land (despite involving conspicuously man-made materials), but can it really be considered natural to inhabit an RV, or a trailer, let alone a house? And what about food? Is all the food we eat perfectly natural, or is much of it heavily processed? Do we cook it all over campfires, or is it more convenient to use a grill or stove? For that matter, could anything that uses electricity, or takes advantage of indoor plumbing, be considered "natural"?

If we were to adopt the philosophy that natural means better, then we'd quickly find ourselves reverting to the Stone Age. And nudism is not a euphemism for "Stone Age camping". Granted, there are people out there - undoubtedly including some that are among the nudist community - that argue for a natural approach in all things. But this is not most of us, nor even most of the people arguing that nudism is good because it's natural. And while a greener, more environmentalist-friendly approach may be desirable in many contexts, it is not because everything that is natural is intrinsically good. Or that anything that is unnatural is intrinsically bad. An approach that is too naturalistic carries problems of its own - just consider the anti-vaxxers. So, if we can't credibly argue that being naked is good because it's our natural state of dress, then what are we left with?

Let me say this: I can't deny that part of the appeal of being naked - especially outdoors - is that it gives me a sense of being "closer" to nature. But, interestingly, it's a feeling that's not mitigated by my freshly shaven armpits. And while I would rather shower under a waterfall than in a bathroom, I have no strong desire to defecate under a bush, especially without toilet paper or soap of some kind. And believe me, I could go my entire life without having to kill my own dinner. I guess I'm not really wild. But I like being naked. (And, it's interesting to note, few of the people I know that I would call wild regularly practice nudism). Call me a "tourist", but I could live peacefully in the boundary between worlds, frolicking happily in nature, but with civilization never too far away. A manifestation of that, perhaps, is my desire for more reasonable nudity laws, that would allow a person to enjoy public parks and city streets (or at least people's private yards) "au naturale", instead of having to drive out to the middle of nowhere to enjoy nudism in glorified trailer parks (that, nevertheless, often have many of the amenities of modern society).

If the reason that the appeal to nature speaks to us is because it tugs at our feelings, then I suppose nudism could be considered good because it allows us to feel natural, without any of the harmful side-effects of truly roughing it. I mean, there is some validity to the naturalistic perspective; provided that being naked is no more harmful than wearing clothes, it seems kind of silly for us to go so far out of our way, culturally, to deny a simple fact of nature. In other words, being natural doesn't make nudism a good thing, per se, but it doesn't hurt its case, either. And if there are plenty of other advantages to going nude (both physically and mentally), which could themselves be emphasized above and beyond the natural argument, then all the better!

When I really think about it, "nude is natural" seems more like an excuse for why it's okay, than a reason for anyone to pursue it. I don't actually like nudity because it's natural, even if that's how I feel sometimes. I like nudity because it's beautiful. And when it's not beautiful (because it's not always beautiful), I like it because it's comfortable. Does there need to be anything more to it than that? I think it's when people start questioning whether being naked is really sane or appropriate (on account of what they've been taught), in spite of whatever advantages a person might derive from it, that we start to become defensive, and emphasize its natural nature. Which I think is okay. We all have bodies. We were born with them, and it's not healthy to be ashamed of them. Why should they be considered "inappropriate"? Anyone can undress in front of a mirror and see one for themselves. You think nudism is crazy? I think going out of our way to hide our bodies from each other - and ourselves - is what's insane.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Installing an Air Conditioner

(A nudist documentary)

Now that summer is in full force, I can no longer put off installing the second air conditioning unit in our apartment.

video

See, it didn't take long for me to start experimenting with my newfound video editing skills. This is still a pretty basic project - a straightforward combination of three videos - but the ability to combine shots allows me to tell a more complete visual story (like one with a beginning, middle, and end). It also still runs a bit long - although this is a documentary, and it really took that long to dig the a/c out of the closet, install it, and then put the closet back in order. On the plus side, the production was a lot simpler than my recent swimsuit session, since I was dealing with single takes ("take it or leave it") this time.

Who knows what I'll come up with next!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

In Defense of Sexy Cosplay

In spite of my status as an internet sex icon (albeit a pretty niche one), I'm a nerd. Don't believe me? While I've never watched much Star Trek, or participated in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, I do own copies of the Despecialized Edition of the original Star Wars trilogy, have read The Silmarillion cover to cover, recently reviewed all 200+ episodes of the original run of The X-Files, am currently developing a VG RPG in tribute to SNES-era (that is, pre-3D) Final Fantasy, and I consider my annual attendance to an anime convention (for which I always dress up) one of the highlights of my year.

So, as a nerd, I'd like to make what should be a non-controversial statement about cosplay culture. One of the great joys of cosplay - to me, and to many other people - is seeing people dressed up (or down) in sexy, skimpy outfits. (And this includes both men and women, even if, due to cultural and statistical reasons, it's more often women - although I'm working, as much as one person can, towards leveling that playing field). It should be no secret that this is part of the fun. For some of us. You may or may not be one of those people, or particularly appreciate this aspect of the culture, but I'd like to ask you to refrain from shaming other people for engaging in it, please.

If somebody cosplays a character you don't like, or a character from a show you don't like, you may not appreciate it, but they're not doing anything wrong. Nor are the people who do appreciate that cosplay. It doesn't hurt you in any way. But, of course, we're not just talking about choosing specific characters or franchises here (unless it's one of the many characters already depicted in a "sexualized" manner in its original media), we're talking about a particular approach to a character. Maybe you like the show, and even the character, but you don't appreciate it being "sexed up". Fine, that's your opinion. But what makes sex shaming okay when other forms of harassment are rightly vilified?

Think about it. If this were any other subject than sex appeal, this wouldn't be an issue. Black man cosplaying a white character? Call him out and you're racist. Woman cosplaying a male character? Call her out and that's sexist. But call someone out for making a character look sexy, and you're "fighting the good fight". Tell me I'm wrong to blame feminism for making prudishness part of the social justice curriculum. Sex is a fundamental and pervasive part of the human experience. I get that it makes some people uncomfortable. You don't have to participate if you don't want to. But can you let us have our fun? Tell me how acknowledging the fact that people are wired to find bodies sexually appealing harms you in such a way that we're better off pretending this part of us doesn't exist. That keeping it locked away behind closed doors and facilitating a societal program of self-denial and hypocrisy is in service to the greater public good.

I suppose that by legitimizing what you might call a culture of "perviness", we are fostering an environment where sexual harassment can flourish. I'm not naive. But let me stop you right there. Our brains are sophisticated enough to see the world in more shades than just black and white. You can be pro-sex, and still be anti-harassment. The dialogue on what constitutes harassment should certainly remain open. But who's harassing who when you call someone "creepy" for thinking that somebody in a crowd looks sexually appealing, or for wanting to create a photographic memory of that moment in an environment where taking pictures to remember costumes by is not only permitted, but encouraged?

Are you afraid of what someone might do with that picture in the privacy of their own home? What does it matter? How can you even predict that, when I can guarantee you that there are surreptitious perverts walking amongst us whose private behaviors you would never guess by their outward demeanor? I'm sorry to be so blunt (I'd hate to discourage anyone from taking this chance to step outside their comfort zone, but I have to draw the line here), but if you don't want anyone seeing you in an outfit, don't wear it in public. And if you want to reduce the possibility of anybody taking a picture of you in it, don't wear it to a convention where cameras are snapping fast and loose. The last thing I'd want to see is the convention environment - which is already, in my experience, an exceptionally welcoming atmosphere, just the way it is - become a "no photography" zone like every nudist property (I presume) in this country.

I want you to feel comfortable at a convention. Comfortable to stretch your nerdy wings in an atmosphere of mutual fandom. I want to feel comfortable, too. And part of stretching your wings, in a cosplay context, might include wearing something outrageous that you'd never wear (or could never wear) out there in the "default" world. Maybe you think the presence of cameras threatens your ability to do that. As a photographer, that saddens me, because I see photography as a mainly harmless pursuit, and one that can bring great pleasure to a great many people. Much of the fear is overblown, and fostered by sensationalist news media, who love to run stories about how pictures can ruin lives. That's an exaggeration, at the very least. I have pictures of myself (in sexually compromising positions, no less) plastered all over the internet, admired by adoring fans (not vindictive bullies, whose power relies on your complicity in hanging your head in shame, instead of owning up to your behaviors), and it hasn't ruined my life. A picture of you in a costume that was impressive enough that somebody wanted to take your picture (whether it's because of the work you put into the costume, the work you put into your body, or both) isn't going to ruin yours, no matter what might be done with it in private.

And if it's just the attention you receive at a convention that makes you feel like you're being "ogled", and singled out in the crowd, that makes you uncomfortable, then let's focus on teaching people how to observe basic manners, even in the presence of overwhelming beauty (whether of an erotic nature or otherwise). I fully support campaigns to encourage potential "creeps" to treat others with respect, regardless of their level of arousal. We can police the way people behave - but not how they feel. And we can't restrict certain behaviors that are otherwise perfectly permissible only because we perceive them to be stemming from an "impure" motivation. How, for example, can you justify criticizing a "creep" for even wanting a picture of a skimpy cosplayer, if there is nothing wrong, on principle, with asking people for photos? The issue is how a person approaches (and treats) a cosplayer, not whether or why they want a picture. We cannot shame human beings for their instinctual sexual impulse, only certain ways they may choose to respond to it that are destructive or antisocial in nature. But society must provide alternative outlets that are deemed appropriate. Because denying this fact of nature, or trying to prevent it from happening at all, is a recipe for failure. And it leads to a sex-negative, misandrist culture of shaming men for having involuntary sexual thoughts about women they are not legally or socially binded to.

---

I'd like to believe this is an over-inflated issue. On the one hand, you can find a lot of "con horror stories" online about cosplayers being "creeped" on at conventions. Personally, I've never encountered this behavior in all the years I've been wearing skimpy cosplays*, but I understand that that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Maybe I'm lucky. Maybe it's because I go to a relatively small convention in a relatively nice city. Or maybe it's because I'm not a girl (although I'm sure I've fooled a few people). But I can't help feeling like the right attitude goes a long way. When I wear a skimpy cosplay, I expect people to look. I also expect people to want pictures even when they don't know jack about the character I'm cosplaying**, and I don't mind. I don't interpret every sideways glance as a soul-crushing expression of sexual objectification. Rather, it flatters me.

(On the contrary, I have anxiety, so I'm more likely to interpret those glances as people judging me, but I have the maturity and self-awareness to know that in the vast majority of cases, that's probably not true, and the few in which it is don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. If I can recognize this about my own feelings of anxiety, then why can't others who are afraid of people "checking them out" - which, again, in most cases, is really a harmless and even complimentary gesture - do it, too?).

Now, maybe a lot of cosplayers are young and inexperienced and don't know how to handle this kind of attention, but that's a failure of our [conservative, fundamentalist] education system to prepare them for the reality of life as a sexual organism (which does not follow social standards of propriety - like never finding anyone under the age of 18 attractive - no matter how much we might want it to). None of this excuses the truly creepy behavior that (I'm sure) goes on (although I'd hope it's not as common as it is remarkable, leading to it being talked about more often than it actually happens), but this isn't an indictment of sexy cosplayers or the fans who admire them on the whole.

*The closest thing I've experienced to "sexual harassment" at a con is when I was wearing a cosplay that basically consists of a speedo, and a woman that was visibly drunk asked me if she could see what was underneath. But I wasn't offended. Why on earth would I be? I was actually on the verge of showing her before her friend apologized and dragged her away. If that kind of thing bothered me, I wouldn't attend conventions dressed as if I were headed to the beach.

(I'm not saying I - or anyone dressed like I was that night - was "asking for it". Although we should clarify what "it" is that is being asked for. If you dress in an eye-catching outfit, you are asking for attention - don't be surprised when you get some. That does not, however, mean that you are asking for harassment or assault, or giving your consent to be touched or anything like that. At the same time, you don't have the right to not be photographed in public. Looking and touching - we really need to keep these things separate).

It occurs to me that this anecdote could contribute to the notion that men can't be sexually harassed, because, unlike women, they enjoy it by default. I understand (and agree) that this is a toxic notion. I've been catcalled on the street, even propositioned once by a man who mistook me for a prostitute. And while I don't think it constitutes a major problem (you think it's scary when a burly man thinks you're attractive? Try being the "faggot" that walks into his field of vision), it is an offensive display of rudeness that I could live without. I'm not inhuman - I have boundaries. I agree that there are lines that people shouldn't cross. I was once cornered in the men's bathroom at a nudist camp, by someone who clearly had an interest in me. I don't know if it was intentional, but he was body-blocking the exit, and that's not okay. He turned out to be pretty harmless, but that's beside the point, isn't it? What I'm saying is, I don't believe that anything goes. But I do believe that we should take a reasonable and objective stance on this issue, and not let our emotions cloud our vision. Simply put, not every expression of sexual admiration constitutes harassment. The devil is in the details, and those details are what we should be focusing on - not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

**Although something that's surprised me is how few people want to take my picture when I do a sexy cosplay of an obscure character, which doesn't really mesh with the view that there are tons of photographers just taking pictures of every sexy cosplayer they come across. I actually want to be that photographer, but I've never had the guts to do it because I'm concerned about making people feel self-conscious (see, "pervs" can be considerate, too; it's just that you only ever hear about the few who misbehave), even though I've never experienced anything other than gratitude for admiring a cosplayer's outfit and asking for a picture, no matter how tame or wild the outfit happens to be. This shouldn't be a revelation, but people really don't wear these outfits because they want to be ignored.