Why Is This Photo ‘Deeply Offensive’?

The photo in question was my chosen pic for an article I wrote about, among other things, the selling of sex. The site removed the piece and banned me for a week, then sent me a not-safe-for-hurt-feelings email saying the photo was “deeply offensive” and “soft-core porn,” and that I ought to be ashamed of myself for placing it on a respectable, liberal site. They threatened me with permanent blockage if I ever tried such a stunt again, “even in jest.”

And I just thought the photo illustrated my satiric point.

Before I try and figure out the answer, let me post the entire photo, not just the cropped version used for this piece. This is your official warning, so you might want to lock the kids in the closet, close the curtains, hide the bibles, keep the smelling salts handy, and chain yourself to something secure so you don’t throw yourself out the window or jump into oncoming traffic.

Okay, I’ve done my part, so here it is, the whole thing. Ready, set… look!

The model in the photo is gay country-singer heartthrob Steve Grand, and, as you can see, it’s titillating. It screams “sex” and was designed to showcase Grand’s obvious assets.

But why is it “deeply offensive” and “soft-core porn”? The Urban Dictionary’s Top Definition for the latter is “pornographic material that shows everything excluding insertion or penetration.” Other examples say penetration with a partner and masturbation is okay provided you don’t show ejaculation or an erection or cunnilingus. Playboy is often depicted as soft-core porn.

Forgetting for a moment that the photo has been displayed on mainstream gay sites worldwide, and that almost every “serious” cable show now shows male nudity, Grand isn’t naked in the photo—you don’t even see the Facebook-forbidden butt-crack or pubic hair. He’s not masturbating, there’s no partner, unless you count the showerhead, and he’s not erect. He’s wearing the male version of the type of undergarment female Victoria Secret models show off on posters and commercials and TV ads on a daily basis. Like this one…

Or, heck, even this 1970’s bikini shot of wholesome Cheryl Tiegs...

Baffled I am.

There was a moment where I thought the site-scolder decided the photo was deeply offensive because Steve Grand deeply offends a lot of gay men—he’s a little bit country, he’s a little bit show ‘mo—or, more logistically, because he’s taking a shower while still in his underwear. Seriously, what kind of ignoramus bathes without removing all of their clothing? Um, not sure that’s totally hygienic. Perhaps it was deemed deeply offensive because Photoshop was more than likely used to improve Grand’s impressive physique.

But, no, my educated guess is that the photo was removed, and I was body-posting shamed, because you can see an imprint of Grand’s penis. (I hate to sound vulgar, but I felt it necessary to use the technical term.) It’s also homoerotic.

We’ve come along way in regards to male nudity and homoerotism (while straight women are likely to get excited by this photo, the artistic feel of the shot, the clothing, the openly gay model, are geared toward homosexual men). But for reasons that I still don’t understand, we’re major prudes when it comes to male genitalia.

This makes sense in the GOP world, where all risqué photos are taboo and all semi-naked men are an abomination (unless the former are nude modeling pics of the First Lady in lesbian-bondage poses and the latter are the male prostitutes they found on Grindr). We know they’re hypocrites.

Penis-phobia in the progressive world is far more surprising. You’d be hard-pressed to spend a day on social media or looking at ads without finding allusions to male anatomy. It’s everywhere, even in our political discussions. It’s in our puns, our jokes, our masculine “measure of worth”—you can’t even write a sentence about the subject without unintentionally finding a pun. Yet show any suggestion of it in the open and it’s a crude, graphic display.

Not only is this a perverse double-standard, and one that adversely affects the gay community, it reinforces the notion that the male body is shameful. When we’re only allowed to allude to it, and not celebrate it the way we do the female form, it’s tantamount to saying our admiration should be kept in the closet. I’ve met few straight men who will admit they appreciate the nude male body, and many who won’t even admit that a man’s face is attractive. That’s an unhealthy way to live and a choice most women ignore.

Our macho sensibility tells men it’s wrong to admire each other’s physicality, which leads to insecurity, fear, and a general lack of self-awareness. How can you understand your body if you’re not allowed to talk about it? Sharing information about our selves is education. Silence makes us act-out and wonder, “Because my body is/is not like his, am I okay?” We then judge our bodies by our guesses and what others tell us. Should one person say we’re not up to snuff, that might be the only criteria for self-worth.

A 58-year-old gay friend of mine, who just ended a long-term, monogamous relationship, called me recently to say he’s fearful of dating again because the first post-breakup man he met was freaked-out by his uncircumcised penis and declined sex. I told him to look at some gay porn so he’d realize that some of the most attractive men on the planet share his “affliction.” In our surface-smothered cock world, it’s easy to forget how little actual information is shared.

The fact that Steve Grand’s physicality is not representative of the way most men look, and that the photographer probably did use Photoshop, invites conversation and healthy discussion. His penis is central to that equation because every man on the planet has at one time questioned the shape, size, and attractiveness of his own dick. We tell young men that it’s okay to masturbate while simultaneously insinuating that exploring the male form is taboo. It’s time to become growers in the showers-only media.

It’s also time to stop the patriarchal, outdated nonsense about male genitalia and start treating the male body in the manner it deserves: as a thing of beauty, as something to admire, to be inspired by, to get excited about, to love, and to look at. If you get a hard-on in the process, bully for you.

Follow David Toussaint on Twitter and Facebook.

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