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Vol. 10, No. 2, 2011
 

 
     
 
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the heterosexual dictatorship versus
ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE

by
ROBERT J. LEWIS

_____________________

Sophistication is the ability to approach culture
with the minimum amount of anxiety.
Northrop Frye

Jim and Tom, Sausalito, 1977

The give and take is consensual. From a penis pulled out of homosexual Jim’s leather pants, a straight line of urine is being directed into the mouth of homosexual Tom. If a public toilet’s "thought-dreams could be seen," it would envy the considered delivery, the not-a-drop-wasted marksmanship.

The photograph, entitled “Jim and Tom, Sausalito, 1977,” was taken by the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS (1989) at the age of 42. It is one of the great photographs of the twentieth century. But it is not, classification notwithstanding, homoerotic art: neither the urinator nor his toilette is even approximately aroused. And if we grant the position is sexual, urinating and having to negotiate a mouthful of urine are not normally the stuff of foreplay or activities that predict arousal.

The storyline is straightforward. Hooded Jim, standing, is relieving his bladder while cowled Tom, kneeling, mouth agape, is orally receiving the benediction.

Since the photo wasn’t likely to elicit a sympathetic view of homosexuality or induce heterosexuals to switch sides, why did Mapplethorpe enter “Jim and Tom” into the public domain?

Does the photo argue that homosexuals are well-adjusted, comfortable in their sexual skins? Did the photographer hope to ingratiate himself into the good graces of the gay rights and gay pride movements? Seeing that it is not normal to thirst for or imbibe urine, is Mapplethorpe proposing that homosexuality is abnormal, anomalous, even perverse? He must have known that the already scarlet lettered homosexual community would vigorously object to the implications of the photo and would be click-quick to disassociate itself from sexual practices that deviate from the more conventional modalities (oral, anal) of gay sex, even though the photo is not sexual. But even Mapplethorpe’s harshest critics must admire his position on political correctness whose tyrannies he literally pisses on.

Is there a case to be made that “Jim and Tom” not only illuminates but represents the definitive outing of the condition of self-hatred? What causes a man to want to urinate into the mouth of his fellow man? In what regard does the urinator behold the man who agrees to orally receive his micturition? And what are we to conclude about the vessel and his (jaundiced) self-esteem indices?

“Jim and Tom” is a photo depicting what it’s like to be gay. It is a cry to the world, an advertisement announcing that gay pride is a lie, a façade without any practical agency against the intensity and ubiquity of hatred directed against homosexuals. It's the photo that every gay person secretly carries in his wallet and the nightmare he awakes to at the break of every dawn.

How many negative experiences did it take to transmogrify Jim and Tom into the unredeemed, into unregenerate self-haters? To what unfathomable degree of hatred were these men subjected to that finally twisted them to hate themselves, to find solace in humiliation and degradation, to not only accept the verdict of the hater but to appease him by signing their capitulation in urine?

There doesn’t exist a human being who wouldn’t rather be liked than not. When someone discovers he is hated for reasons other than his principles and beliefs, he will reflexively (unconsciously) attempt to modify his behaviour in order to be relieved of the cause of the hatred. But what is he to do when he is hated or rejected for something over which he has no control, or cannot change or alter: the colour of his skin, his ethnicity, his sexual orientation? He will do what comes most easily and naturally; he will appeal to his imaginative faculties and wish to be something other than what he is. Little does he suspect in this innocent act of wishful thinking his relationship with the world will never again be the same.

Self-hatred, especially among ethnic and minority group members, is an affliction, a sickness of being that no one dares to speak of because of the shame it elicits. But the shame is not a function of identity; it is an admission (of defeat) that the self-hater is hostage to public opinion, that he lacks the wherewithal to outthink or neutralize the inauthentic hatred directed against him. That so many self-haters remain self-hating over a lifetime forces the conclusion that, with few exceptions, ethnic and racial hatred are so overpowering they cannot be overcome.

Unlike members of ethnic and racial minority groups, homosexuals become self-hating later in life, during adolescence. The former are typically exposed to prejudice in early childhood and, perforce, learn to live with and adjust to the condition, especially if, as adults, they restrict the locus of their activities to their ethnic ghettos. The homosexual will only begin to become self-hating when he learns or suspects he is gay. Prior to that, he will have been culturally exposed to the widely held, condescending view of homosexuality that goes unchallenged in everyday discourse. Thus, it all too frequently happens that the prepubescent homosexual comes to adopt the homophobic ethos before he becomes aware of his homosexuality, which almost guarantees he will become a self-hating adult.

Robert Mapplethorpe’s photo of Jim and Tom lays bare, in all its brutality, the sheer power of homophobia and its tragically crippling consequences. In the brokeback facial expressions of Jim and Tom, we catch a phantom glimpse of the self-satisfied Liberal who -- even though he would have you think otherwise -- in his private thoughts is at best uneasy with homosexuality, which predicts that in a perfect world where homosexuality and heterosexuality enjoy equal positive regard, he will still prefer that his son be straight than gay.

What does “Jim and Tom” tell of our nation’s art critics who, en masse messed up, failed to uncover the work’s epochal significance, who instead lobbied to have the photo censured? From what smug biases did they pick and choose in the rendering of their ‘final judgment?’

The photo of “Jim and Tom” is not only a depiction of self-hatred; it is a millennia-deep indictment of homophobia and its debilitating first effects. In its stark, bone-chilling content, it reduces to a singularity the immobilizing hatred and immorality that inhere in homophobia. Heterosexuality is revealed as a brutal dictatorship. In the unequal war of the worlds, it is the heterosexual who presumes the right to define for all time the status of the homosexual. As a commentary on the luck of the draw, the photo portrays homosexuality as a black hole from which there is no escape, and homophobia an issue from the same sordid swamp that spawned the likes of the Gestapo, the Klu Klux Klan, Stalin and Pol Pot. “In the darkness with a great bundle of grief the people march . . . where to, what next?"

Robert Mapplethorpe's infamous photo meets the criteria of art because in the telling of its story it moves us without being didactic. As an artwork that transcends time and defies category, “Jim and Tom” deserves to be exhibited in every major and minor museum in the world, and included in every university curriculum.

In light of the dark fact that homophobia continues to prosper and multiply, it is not enough that we merely think correctly, meaning pat ourselves -- proud liberals with a cause -- on the back only to stay pat. Nothing less than doing what is right will relieve us of our complicity in Jim and Tom’s humiliation. Jim and Tom have mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters; they belong to every race, religion, colour and culture. Since there is no escaping our moment in time which is their time, we can decide to return to them their stolen dignity or let human nature -- gene and claw -- do our bidding.

Like birds on the wire, like drunks in a midnight choir, Jim and Tom have tried in their way to be free. [LC]

© Robert Mapplethorpe, "Jim and Tom, Sausalito, 1977"
© Roberto Romei Rotondo, "The Unredeemed"

 

 

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also by Robert J. Lewis:
1-800-Philosophy

The Eclectic Switch

Philosophical Time
What is Beauty?

In Defense of Heidegger

Hijackers, Hookers and Paradise Now
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene

COMMENTS

user-submission@feedback.com
I had to take a deep breath after reading this.

user-submission@feedback.com
I cannot see the photograph clearly enough; not as clearly as a written description of it explained so that is disappointing. I wonder if the commenter who said that the killer in the Orlando massacre was disgusted by the sight of 2 homosexual men kissing and so the commenter makes the comment that while he condemns the massacre in Orlando, this Maplethorpe photo, likewise, "disgusts" him. I am wondering if "makes me feel very uncomfortable" might be a more accurate description of the initial feeling of repulsion? Also many have made the guess (or observation that the Orlando killer might have been somewhat intrigued by exploring his own erotic feelings towards other men? In my opinion it would seem best to look at this photo without bringing into it the Orlamdo event. But rather juat to look at the photo on it's own merits and maybe to try to understand more about the artist who created it/or took the photo. Also, perhaps the cultural & historical time of the "art scene" in NY at that time. Obviously being "disgusted" is no excise to massacre 49 people with an assault weapon and most people do know there are all sorts of inequities in the world and among different cultures. Art has always depicted this. Right now I am thinking about all the betrayal & abuse of children in the Catholic Church. Also another commenter mentioned the drinking of urine to have (& still is by some) considered medicinal.

I had a friend (who was really into health, nutrition and alternative "therapies") who wrote me a very funny letter about how she was getting her body so cleansed that she was dry king her own urine (it apparently, along with her digestive system) had become so purified that it was working out pretty well for her; she wrote her letter in a very funny way that I could not tell whether she was serious or making the whole thing up. . . so we all bring different life experiences & views to the art we view and I don't think it's quite wise to make the perpetrator of that massacre in Orlamdo some sort of an acknowledged art critic about what's disgusting or acceptable. To each his own. I've been amazed I could find this much on line regarding the controversial photos of Mr.Maplethorpe. I don't think two men kissing is "disgusting," and if it or this photo bothers anyone then they don't have to look at it.

user-submission@feedback.com
I am a man of a faith that condemns homosexuality, but not hate as this article shows and I condemn the horrible hate crime that took place in Orlando but the killer was disgusted by two homosexuals kissing in public and the photo you use in your article disgusts in the same way.

Frammer
That "normal" people are repulsed by the idea of Urophagia does mean that our repulsion is an adequate guage of a thing.Urophagia is often related to S&M -- something we may very well be born with like homosexuality.

From the Internet: Can you make these desires go awayl Some S/M people yearn for a more mundane sexual lifestyle and wish to change their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, sexual orientation is either im­possible or very difficult to change, as studies of people attempting to change homosexual orientation indicate. It is important to point out that you can help individuals add new behaviors to their sexual pattern. Thus, you can help an S/M practitioner eroticize non-S/M behaviors, but attempts to uneroticize S/M behavior is rarely, if ever, lasting or successful. There is also an ethical question of whether this is appropriate or not.

SUMMARY

While there is a paucity of data concerning the psychological problems of S/M practitioners, some preliminary data has been pre­sented. S/M practitioners have not been shown to have any particu­lar psychiatric problems or even any unique problems associated with their activities that interfere with daily functioning. There is no scientific basis to deny S/M practitioners child custody, adoption opportunities, any job, security clearances, or any other right or privilege in this society.

Urophagia (wikipedia) is the consumption of urine. There are various reasons that humans may consume urine. Urine was used in several ancient cultures for various health, healing, and cosmetic purposes, practices which are still used by some people of these cultures today. In Western culture, these practices are known as urine therapy, a form of alternative medicine.

Other reasons for urophagia include attempting survival, if no other potable fluid is available, though numerous credible sources (including the US Army Field Manual) advise against it. Also, some people consume urine as a sexual activity, and members of at least one culture consume urine for ceremonial purposes.

From the more ecstatic standpoint of the impassioned lover, eager to magnify the charm of the woman he worships, it is not impossible for the excretory centers to take on some charm from the irradiating center of sex which they enclose. No mention of hate or self-hate.

unsigned
Why not a photo of "Jim and Tom" fishing? From what smug biases did you pick and choose?

unsigned
The photo is sick. The defending it even sicker -- both pointing the way to a society gone to hell.

bear408@aol.com
I was online looking for gay erotic art when I found "Jim and Tom;" and while I appreciate the commentary, I am transfixed by these two men. I just wish I could find a copy and look at it all day.

user-submission@feedback.com
Good try but I can't buy into your argument. Something is very wrong there that does not belong in the natural world. But no human being has the right to decide that someone is a lesser human being, let's be clear about this.

user-submission@feedback.com
I met Jim when I lived in San Francisco. 1993 I think, only a few times. He told me Robert
gave him some proofs of it.
Like most who were into these experiences as you call them, you would never guess Jim's occupation, not that I would ever give it up. What was remarkable about Jim was he was still
alive. What usurped, self-hatred in the Gay community was AIDS.
Anyhow "Piss Christ", Jesus crucified in a jar of urine. I think that was the late 80s.
Some people are just moved by urine. So?

user-submission@feedback.com
LISTEN. THE IMAGE IS BIZARRE, AMUSING, INTERESTING, AND FLAT OUT A SHOCK TO THE EYE. DON'T YOU THINK IT WAS A SHOCK TO SEE LIVE? THE EXCITEMENT THAT A PHOTOGRAPHER WOULD GET TO SEE SUCH AN ACT UNFOLDING. PERFECT PHOTO OPP FOR A PHOTOGRAPHER THAT'S ALREADY PUSHING THE LIMITS. THE MAN LOVES FREAKSHOW AND SHOCK. YOU NEEDN'T GIVE IT MUCH THOUGHT AS TO WHAT HE MEANT, AS ALL THESE THINGS ARE ONLY WHAT YOU THINK WHILE LOOKING AT IT. HE ONLY PRESENTED AN IMAGE OF SHOCK, ALL ELSE CAME FROM PEOPLE'S REACTIONS. IT'S NO MORE THOUGHTFUL THAN HARDCORE PUNK, BE GRIDDY, SHOCK AND AWE, CRAZY BIZARRE. YOU'D GET IT IT IF YOU WERE THERE

 


 

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