Being ‘gender fluid’ and tackling the binary, whether that’s toxic masculinity or what’s expected of your gender, have only recently entered the conversation among the masses. Toxic masculinity has become a popular debate, from what it means, to the effects it has on society and men themselves. It’s also what inspired the photography series Blah, Blah, Blah, Genitals, a social experiment exploring the formation of gender identity in boys.
While couch surfing through Barcelona, creative duo Julia Falkner and Lorena Hydeman wanted to ask the question, how do boys see manhood? With all these debates around what it means to be a man today, has toxic masculinity become a thing of the past?
We sometimes have a rose-tinted lens towards the future. As generations progress, there’s this idea that those that come after us will be more open-minded. McCrindle’s consultancy predicts that there are 2.5 million more Generation Alphas being born every week. These are the children of millennials and born around the year 2010. Generation Z is those born around the 2000s. These generations are expected to be the longest living generations as well as the wealthiest.
In order to respond to this, through family and friends, and with the permission of their parents, Falkner the photographer and Hydeman interviewed and photographed 17 boys aged between 6-16 on what masculinity meant to them.
Dressing up in what is usually deemed to be feminine clothing and playing with makeup, Falker noticed that though the boys enjoyed experimenting with this treasure chest of options, they were also aware that they couldn’t wear this to school in case they were made fun of. “All the boys were really intelligent and shooting with children is always a raw and honest experience but the one thing I did notice was how open the boys depended on which parent/guardian was in the room”.
Many of the boys had one thing in common: their fathers were not present in their lives and those that were raised in single-parent households were more receptive to feminity. “When I asked Rio, who was playing basketball and was already wearing basketball shorts, what he wanted to wear, he went into his mother’s wardrobe and picked out her wedding corset,” says Hydeman. “What was endearing was when he was trying it on, he was saying how he felt so bad that his mother had to wear this on her wedding day and he was just so empathetic towards her”.
When speaking to Screen Shot about how the experiment reflected different minorities’ relationship to gender fluidity, Hydeman said that what became clear was the impact of what fathers thought on the children’s choice of clothes and makeup. “One thing that stands out to me is this conversation I was having with Taye and Tyrell’s mum and how their dad didn’t want them to be a part of it. Coming from a Jamaican background, there’s this alpha male machoness that was prided on. Almost as if how tough your boys are mirrors how much you’ve left an impression on them”.
During the process of the experiment, the creative duo themselves said they had to check their own stereotypes; who they thought would be the least receptive participants to the experiment, often turned out to be the most engaged. For example, boys in their teens were just as open-minded as six-year-olds. “Most of the boys became more feminine than I thought they would,” says Hydeman. “I misjudged them and thought that the sporty boys wouldn’t want to wear heeled boots but that was the complete opposite.”
When exploring how masculinity and toxic masculinity has shaped these boys’ lives, what was apparent was how toxic masculinity in Generation Z and Alphas would perhaps look different from what it does today. Throughout the experiment, what was clear was how the boys, especially the younger boys, were open to the idea of wearing a dress. “They realised it’s just a silhouette at the end of the day,” Falker and Hydeman both say.
While talking to the boys about what it meant to them to be a man or a woman, both Falker and Hydeman reported how respectful and appreciative these young boys were of the women in their lives—something that might have been shaped through discourse around women’s rights. “Maybe toxic masculinity had to become so bad that the next generation would want it to be different,” says Hydeman. Maybe this is a sign of better things to come. A sense of hope and openness via the younger generations ahead.
Blah Blah Genitals went on to be exhibited at the Photo Vogue Festival 2018 in Milan as part of the group exhibition, Embracing Diversity, and as a solo exhibition at Galleria Lattuada.
The Trump administration recently launched a campaign to support the global decriminalisation of homosexuality, spearheaded by openly-gay U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell. That’s how it’s been framed, at least.
It was announced that Grenell would meet with eleven European activists in Berlin to coordinate a plan to eventually decriminalise homosexuality worldwide. 73 countries still have laws against same-sex relationships and sexual intercourse, particularly in Africa and the Middle East; several countries impose the death penalty for gay sex. It was reported that this new campaign was sparked by the recent execution of a gay man in Iran.
This isn’t an entirely new policy, however. The support of global LGBTQ rights was initiated under Hillary Clinton, during her tenure as Secretary of State. Deputy Spokesperson for the State Department, Robert Palladino, confirmed this when he was asked about Grenell’s ‘new’ campaign soon after the story broke: “It’s – this really is not a big policy departure. This is longstanding and it’s bipartisan.” Adding, “I would say that this is a good opportunity to listen and to discuss ideas about how the United States can advance decriminalization of homosexuality around the world, and that’s been our policy.” Yet, right-wing news outlets are already touting this as a progressive Trump initiative, arguing that he is following through on his empty campaign promise to be a pro-LGBTQ president.
What’s interesting about this story is Trump’s reaction to the news when it was brought up during a recent Q&A with reporters. When asked, “Mr. President, on your push to decriminalize homosexuality, are you doing that? And why?” the president had no answer: “I don’t know which report you’re talking about. We have many reports. Anybody else?”
This therefore seems like yet another example of Trump’s administration—rather than President Trump himself—doing something productive and progressive. In fact, his administration is managing to push for the support of LGBTQ rights despite Trump, rather than because of him, exploiting his lackadaisical and ignorant style of governance. Meanwhile, House Republicans are happy to placate him, despite this, fearing that otherwise they might lose the support of Trump’s core base. No doubt he’ll be happy to claim ownership of this move if it proves successful, or readily dismiss it entirely if he needs another liberal cause to throw under the bus in order to gain support amongst his base.
There’s also a problematic hypocrisy to this campaign and the right-wing media’s spin on it—specifically with regards to international LGBTQ rights. Many places that still criminalise homosexuality, particularly throughout Africa and the Caribbean, do so because of colonial-era laws exported by evangelical Christians. Activist Eliel Cruz explains this succinctly in a recent tweet: “This administration is focusing on decriminalization abroad while being chummy with the evangelical groups whose colonialist imported theology is the foundation for many country’s support of criminalization.” There’s a level of doublethink going on here. Trump wants to have his cake and eat it too. His administration wants to support international decriminalisation of homosexuality while supporting extreme Christian groups who advocate conversion therapy in the United States—a practice which is slowly, and thankfully, being outlawed state by state, while The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would ban the practice on a Federal level, has been introduced to Congress by Rep. Ted Lieu.
GLAAD—the American non-governmental media monitoring organisation founded by LGBTQ people in the media—runs an ongoing Trump Accountability Project (TAP), a catalogue of “the anti-LGBTQ statements and actions of President Donald Trump and those in his circle.” “94 attacks on LGBTQ people in 767 days,” reads the headline (at time of writing). Examples include the scrapping of any information about LGBT identities from the White House website on the day of his inauguration, through to the consideration this month of “dissolving the ‘disparate impact’ regulation, which grants marginalized communities (including LGBTQ Americans) legal protections from unintended discrimination in housing, education, and other ways of life,” as reported by GLAAD.
Trump’s inconsistency and ignorance is not just lazy governance, it’s downright dangerous. The President is unaware of significant policy being touted and enacted by his administration—policy that he himself may not necessarily agree with. Obviously, this campaign, in particular, is a positive initiative. That said, while those of us who vehemently disagree with Trump might be glad that his staff are going about their jobs in a productive manner, it sets a worrying precedent. What else might be going on that Trump doesn’t know about?