Leaving aside the Cool story bebe now make me a Sandwich shirt Apart from…,I will love this lack of transparency of its message and its being a hymn to stereotypical representations of gay men, in this picture, each body, in the same tiny bedroom, is involved in a styling act (cleaning, redesigning the flesh by building up muscles, picking clothes to signal belonging to the leather community) framing the object of the spectator’s gaze: the chiseled bodies, illuminated by lamplight, of the two men who are about to, or who have just had, sex. If the three men behind the bed are supposed to represent their/our sexual past, nevertheless they look very much present. Being a past interfering with the present, they actually are present; and their presence is animated by a positionality of bodies that seem stuck in motion and likely to engage in group sex. At least to a queer eye, this is what this image may be winking at: all men, of whom the most conventionally attractive ones are naked, are in the same room preparing for sex, with or without precaution.
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Amid this preparation, everyone in the Cool story bebe now make me a Sandwich shirt Apart from…,I will love this picture seems emotionally “off.” There is no ongoing interaction. They are detached. Then, how is the past actually interfering with their present relationship according to the visual strategy of the picture? This sense of being frozen-in-feeling, affectively flat, is what queer theorist Lauren Berlant has called “recessive style” or “underperformed esthetic.” Events that we would normally expect to be filled with tension may actually result in being perceived as suspended, uncertain: there is a stuckness-in-motion, an oscillation-in-potential, an overall underperformativity that renders what we are looking at hardly intelligible. As there is no actual participation, neither by the viewer’s body nor between the bodies in the photograph, in this event of performative suspension, emotional clarity is not provided and the image results in a celebration of withheld relationality and ambivalence. Thus, what could a gay man take from this picture beyond an invitation to seek sexual encounters with attractive others? Morality aside, is precaution necessary at all to accomplish this goal?