Engaged Buddhism

If your ideas of Buddhism derive primarily from the monastic traditions or the blissed-out and commodified western misinterpretations, then the description “engaged” might surprise you a bit. Perhaps not entirely unlike my combining of Buddhist and erotic might surprise you.

There are some paths dedicated to silence and retreat, entirely to inner cultivation and cessation of all emotion and thought. We are all of us constantly buffeted by the winds of karma. We’re tossed hither and thither into different circumstances and directions without always knowing why. The path of inner and outer quiet can point the way out, and it’s a beautiful thing.

But, it’s not really my path. Rather, I see mine as one of a multitude of paths given the name “engaged” in recent times. Two fabulous books that explore the depths of these paths are A Queer Dharma by Jacoby Ballard and Radical Dharma by Jasmine Syedullah, Lama Rod Owens, and angel Kyodo Williams. They describe walking Buddhist paths to change the world for the better rather than escape from it. The more you read, the more you come to realize there is no escape. We are part of the world and each other no matter how much we might try to deny it. And the harms done to us don’t disappear just because we go on a retreat or sit down to meditate.

Ballard, a teacher of mediation and yoga had dedicated his life to the path of teaching. He’s spent an enormous amount of time in spiritual communities and thought he had found belonging—until he transitioned. The rejection and scorn he experienced galvanized his resolve to be a agent of change and create truly safe spaces for growth and realization. He had to confront not only his own rejection, but also take an honest look at how he had been part of the rejection of others, too. His book takes us on his journey and offers some guidance on how to engage with both edges of the sword—the harms done to us and the harms we have caused.

Syedullah, Owens, and Williams are all three people of color and came into Buddhist circles already on edge and ill at ease. Rather than an abrupt rejection like Ballard experienced, each describes their own experiences with invalidation, gaslighting, code switching, and all they ways they’ve tried to hang on to the constantly shifting ground under their feet—all the while keeping a lid on the growing rage the comes with being a person of color in the United States today. The book chronicles their walking paths of engagement, galvanized by pain and anger, but trying not to let themselves be controlled by them. Theirs are stories of a whole new kind of Dharma, a Dharma for our age, our times. Medicine for the ailments we suffer from here and now.

Making art and telling stories is my own path of engaged Buddhism. I’m here trying to change the world rather than create items of detached, ironic commentary or art that attempts to be a “neutral” reflection. Is there any such thing as neutrality, anyways? That we are blessed with imagination, to me, shows that reality doesn’t have to be as real as everyone insists. Imagination is the first step toward changing how things are, right? Buddhism is about discernment, wisdom, precision, and ultimately the truth that there is no truth. At least no single truth. Instead, there are many, many truths. Limitless truths embodied in endless calls and their responses that become calls to other responses. 

Okay, darlings, yes, I know, back to Earth, please. Let’s leave it at this: the most important, radical thing in my life right now is the simple act of creating beauty where there wasn’t before.

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering exclusive sexy art and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

Buddhism and the Erotic
Why is the erotic, something so fundamental, powerful, and pleasurable criminalized, censored, and shamed? Because, if let loose it threatens to tear down the house which whiteness built.
Spartacus, queer hero
I can't capture the entirety of queer experience in any single work or art. But, I can strive, one step at a time, one canvas at a time, to tell better stories than what I had in my formative years.

Buddhism and the Erotic

Buddhism and the erotic is not a combination you come across everyday. But trust me, two great tastes that taste great together.

I have identified as Buddhist for a while now. It creeps into my work here and there. It might be subtle thematic ideas like this series of paintings. Or, it’ll show up in the comics in the form of characters and events inspired by the absolutely astounding array of Buddhist writings across the millennia. (No single Book™️ for us.) I’ve also dedicated time to studying traditional Tibetan thangka painting under the tutelage of the fabulous Carmen Mensink. Not to mention a wide array of readings, talks, and retreats over the years. All threads in the tapestry.

And, yes, there are threads of the erotic in this spiritual life-tapestry as well. It might seem an odd pairing, the Buddhist and the erotic. The renunciatory or monastic paths often spring to mind first. For those on that path, the erotic is distraction and attachment and is, indeed, set aside as an important step on the journey to nirvana. This is not my path.

Less commonly, you might run across the word “tantric” and its sexual overtones in connection to Buddhism, especially in the aforementioned Tibetan traditions. It’s not so much literal sex, but a symbol or representation of the fundamental energies of wisdom and compassion joined together. If you’re interested in a deeper look at this ancient tradition, I suggest picking up a copy of Secret of the Vajra World by Reginald Ray for the history and philosophy. If you want more of the art, then get your hands on Images of Enlightenment by Andy Weber and Jonathan Landaw. This is not exactly my path, either.

Instead, I’m searching for my own path out of the dark forest of western thought—duality, hierarchy, original sin, heteronormativity, and all the rest. I’m searching for ways to grapple with these, authentically, and as a new kind of Buddhist—a white, western Buddhist.

Now, the erotic is pleasure and pleasurable. But does it end there? Nice bit of fun then back to “real” life? The capitalistic mindset would have us believe as much. But consider how erotic energy weaves its way through your entire existence. Can you really contain it to just the bedroom, just the night, just the private. Nope. It’s a fundamental life force, perhaps the fundamental force.

So why then is so much western thought, morality, and legislation bent on curtailing and constraining the erotic? Why is something so fundamental, powerful, and pleasurable criminalized, censored, and shamed? Because, if let loose the erotic threatens to tear down the house which whiteness built.

Owning the truth or our desires and powers shows that our fundamental nature, our Buddha-nature (yes, we’re all Buddhas to be, we just don’t realize it!) isn’t aligned with exploitation and greed. The people and systems clinging to exploitation and greed, driven by their fear, are deeply threatened by those of use daring to claim and seek our true, fundamentally pure desires.

The erotic is, therefore, a powerful weapon to be wielded carefully and compassionately lest you fall into new traps of attachment and objectification. The teachings of Buddhism that point out our fundamentally enlightened nature and show us the power of wisdom and compassion joined, are the perfect way to handle this powerful weapon we all posses.

Celebrating the erotic as a liberatory practice, as a great equalizer, as an energetic movement toward breaking down the barriers of self and other, is the light and purpose of my path—in art and life. 

painting of manjushri, buddha of infinite wisdom wielding a flaming sword
Manjushri by Andy Weber

I’ll leave you with this fabulous image from Andy Weber, another westerner dedicated to the Buddhist path. It’s Manjushri, Buddha of infinite wisdom. Yes, that’s a flaming sword he’s wielding. Why is that? Because the wisdom of the erotic is a powerful, flaming sword cutting through the delusion and ignorance that are the foundation of western white capitalistic thinking.

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering exclusive sexy art and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

Engaged Buddhism
Making art is my path of engaged Buddhism–the radical act of creating beauty and using imagination to point the way to a better world.
Spartacus, queer hero
I can't capture the entirety of queer experience in any single work or art. But, I can strive, one step at a time, one canvas at a time, to tell better stories than what I had in my formative years.

Spartacus, queer hero

I have from time to time waxed eloquent (I hope) about my fixations with warrior imagery and hyper-gay hyper-masculinity. For today’s installment of the beefcake bouquet: Spartacus, queer hero.

But not, as you might suspect, inspired by the clashing swords and blood-spattered TV show or the cheese-fest extraordinaire movie. Instead, I’m turning to historical inspirations. At least, what little history there is to go on. Despite the huge legend that has endured for millennia, only a tiny bit of written history survives—and none of it first-hand. That certainly hasn’t stopped anyone, and, rest assured darlings, it won’t stop me.

Stop me from what? Why another painting, of course. Yep, time for some gladiator beefcake! Having recently finished my completely unauthorized and ever so slightly queer take on John Carter, I’m hankering to keep exploring new takes on well-known, masculine figures.

What history says–or doesn’t, actually

Let’s start with some history. I am no expert, and I’m not after historical accuracy, if such a thing is even possible. But I will still happy recommend The Spartacus War by Barry Strauss. Unlike so many history books, especially about ancient times, I find his books particularly readable. The prose is approachable, the style conversational, and he offers just the right amount of detail to inform without overwhelm. However, he doesn’t skimp on the research. He endeavors to be very clear about what’s documented, what’s speculation, and where disagreements reside. All without putting you to sleep before you reach the bottom of the page.

Alas, there’s no queer focus to the book and no effort to unearth what queer presence there might have been either in the gladiatorial ring or the rebellion that followed. It was surely there, but history is written by the heteronormative victors—at least most of the history we currently have.

While the current make up of the Academy is changing for the better, it doesn’t make up for its centuries of straight-washing history and trying to invisibilize us out of existing. Bits and pieces are coming to light, and it’s encouraging. But largely, we’re left to speculate.

And speculate I will!

Where fiction has taken us

Here’s a little round up of the various fictional takes on Spartacus that I’ve experienced so far.

Let’s start with a TV show, Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Here we have a dozen or so episodes of the utter gayness of macho posturing. They made the interesting choice to spend most of their time objectifying male bodies and having the male protagonists experience some pretty awful sexual objectification. But, really, how is that any better? What have we accomplished? Also, the one attempt at genuine queer representation was both uncomfortably racialized and, of course, ended badly for them: a male couple, both black, both die, one by violence the other taking his own life after being repeatedly raped. Entertaining, to an extent, and lots of (homogenous) beefcake to appreciate. That’s about it.

a gaggle of musclebound gladiators looking stern

Next up, the 1960 Stanley Kubrick film Spartacus. Couldn’t finish it. So not a whole lot to say here. It departed too far from the book it claims to be an adaptation of to draw me in. Normally, I’m all for your campy Hollywood spectacle—and spectacle it is. But, once we got deeper in the presentation of Crassus as queer, corrupt would-be dictator (i.e. the villain) in opposition to the freedom-loving, hetero-manly Spartacus, well, I decided to hit pause and just never unpaused.

Howard Fast’s novel, Spartacus, has been the most moving and enjoyable of my samplings of the legend so far. Written amidst the Communist purges and blacklists of the 1950’s, it’s a stark look at a society built on slavery from the perspectives of both enslaver and enslaved. It carries a strong message to American readers willing to listen. And unlike other treatments of Spartacus, the individual hero is not the sole focus. He’s there throughout, but as a symbol, a movement, an inchoate fear. We get a picture of him and his legacy through his effects on others more than making him the sole individualistic focus–as is the style of so much popular media now.

Queering the Hero

In Euro-centric, western cultures, the word “hero” is suffused with heteronormative assumptions and expectations. At least, for those of us of a certain age, raised in an environment that praised unflinchingly toxic masculinity in all walks of life—and especially in popular culture.

Pair that hetero-hero against a queer-coded villain, as happened so often, and we who were a little bit different were left bereft of hope or examples of what we could achieve and contribute. Not for us the triumph. Not for us the joyous reunion. Not for us, the ride into the sunset.

Enough of that shit. Time to get to work, time to make the donuts epic, sweeping works of art that center us and our triumphs! Now, I can’t capture the entirety of queer experience in any single work or art—or any single lifetime, for that matter. But, I can strive, one step at a time, one canvas at a time, to tell better stories than what I had in my formative years.

So, what are we looking at here? I’m still in the formative stages but heading toward images of affectionate, sensual male bonding as agent of change, as a stirring of rebellion. That is, in fact, the title I’m batting around in my mind right now. I’m also adding an important spiritual dimension: Dionysus, god of wine, chaos, and, most of all, the people!

The Strauss book mentioned above speculates that a strong religious thread ran through the rebellion that nearly toppled the Roman republic. The worship of Dionysus had been all but outlawed as dangerous to the landed gentry and wealthy elite of Rome. The line between people and gods was a lot blurrier back then. Could Spartacus have been seen as a god on earth, leading the enslaved to freedom?

So many tantalizing ideas swirling around, waiting to be born. I’ll leave you with a little sketchbook tour and hope you’ll follow along as this adventure unfolds.

sketches of grapes, ivy vines, and a thyrsus, an ancient religious symbol sacred to Dionysus

Some imagery associated with Dionysus. The grape, source of wine, but also ivy, a poison. Such duality! Finally, a thyrsus, a ritual staff topped with a pine cone, used in ceremonies.

sketch of broken base of a Roman column, ivy vine gently enfolding it

A picturesque bit of decaying architecture and an idea that may not bear fruit (lol). Figures emerging out of grape and ivy leaves.

sketch of a giant grape leaf with a naked male figure emerging

The implements of the gladiator: a helmet and a sica, short curved sword; likely to be found in the hands of Spartacus while in the arena; here they’re being taken over by a higher power

sketches of a gladiator sword and helmet being slowly covered by vines
concept sketch for a painting showing a nude male figure in a state of religious ecstasy

A concept sketch. Going for something surreal here. Rather than fighting, I want to highlight ritual, ideally an ecstatic one befitting the Dionysian themes I’m exploring.

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering exclusive sexy art and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

The Path of Least Respectability

I recently had the honor of participating in a group show dedicated to smut. Yes, you read that right. It was called Dirty Little Drawings, and that’s exactly what it was. Hundreds of 5.5 inch square artworks on paper dedicated to pleasurably erotic depictions of the male form. Was this just a bunch of artists getting their rocks off, or was it something deeper—a form of pleasure activism?

promotional poster for an erotic art show; featured collaged images of nude males from photos and famous artworks like the David

Seeing the fabulous display of talent in person, I was struck not just by the skill and variety of styles, but the amazing fact that we all choose, against the odds and probably at the dismay of many a friend and family, to proudly display erotic art.

It got me thinking about how artists choose their subject matter. (Or does it choose them?) I’ve pondered my own choices a little in previous blog posts on figure drawing and queer representation. So, why the human figure—not generally, but specifically the human figure in various states of undress and arousal. It all revolves around desire. The desire itself is composed of many, many things. It wanders, it takes twists and turns. It travels over hill and dale and back again. You might think the desire is pleasure oriented, and entirely personal—and it is! But the celebratory display of pleasure can be its own kind of activism, its own kind of resistance to oppression. Sometimes horny is just horny, darlings. Sometimes it can be the catalyst for revolution!

So, a trollish type might inquire, why not play it safe with a nice landscape? Or make your commentary with totally indeterminate splatters, or self-consciously clever bits of affected irony? I mean, when the capitalistic, mainstream art world gives a soul so much (🙄) to choose from, how could I possibly refuse some item from their particular menu? Well, let me tell you, darlings.

Authenticity. To create, I have to want to create what it is. Commissions and freelance work have never been my cup of tea. I’m not temperamentally suited to it nor have I devoted time and effort to build the mindset and skillset necessary for such endeavors. I also don’t want to chase after trends and fads. So, here I am walking the path of least respectability.

Now, sometimes a playing-it-safe respectability, the avoidance of conflict, can be a useful survival strategy, but when it becomes of way of life the soul shrivels and dies. The lights go out. This turn on the merry-go-round of incarnation is likely to lead to another just like it, or worse. I will have wasted the precious opportunity this human lifetime offers.

To make things in a world so focused on consuming, to offer rather than take, to realize a vision of what I want to see more of in the world, these take some serious motivation. The dubious and dull comfort of respectability is not going to cut it. Pleasure activism requires a hell of charge in the batteries to keep going. I gotta really be fired up when it’s time to make the donuts…

The trade-offs of this path are indeed difficult, but worth it. Just look at how frustrated desires have twisted so many people into monsters. The pain they bear radiates off them in waves of destruction that threaten everything and everyone around them. Yes, my way of quiet, horny rebellion is tough. Yes, it gets to be a little too much at times. But, then I contemplate the alternative, a life and legacy like J. Edgar Hoover, Roy Cohn or Milo Yiannopoulos, and the doubt eases a little—sometimes it evaporates totally. We affect each other, like it or not. If I’m pursuing respectability and recognition at the expense of my authenticity, I’m poisoning the air around me with every dishonest breath I take.

But then moments like the Dirty Little Drawings show, regular gatherings for figure drawing, and other times of community and sharing remind me, it’s all worth it.

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering exclusive sexy art and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

John Carter, but make it gay!

A beefcake bonanza

Today I’d like to take you, darling, on a journey through some gay erotic surrealism. Think of it as a beefcake bonanza. It all started with a twitter thread of appreciation for the particular skill with which Frank Frazetta presented a wide array of fantastical derrieres. This one, which I’ve written about before caught my eye, especially.

a gay erotic surrealist painting of a fair skinned, dark haired, gorgeously muscular and mostly naked swordsman leaping over mostly naked aliens writing on the ground; the otherworldly background features a fantastic white domed structure and ruins of stone staircases creating a fantastical alien environment.
Swords of Mars (1975) by Frank Frazetta

This little gem packs in a lot of muscle and sartorial impossibility. Naturally, I’ve dedicated some time to unpacking its compositional and anatomical delights. It finally occurred to me to look up what book this was the cover for: Swords of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

While Burroughs made his name with Tarzan, he spent just as much time and purple prose on another hero: John Carter (our nearly nude swordsman above). And, just like the nearly nude vine swinger, a bevy of artists across the 20th and 21st centuries have tried their hand at depicting his exploits. Not to mention a forgettable film or two.

So, I read the first of the 13 books the indefatigable Burroughs penned about John Carter: A Princess of Mars. The brilliant and readable intro by Junot Díaz to the Library of America edition made the book for me—don’t skip it. He beautifully frames the cultural context of the story—both then and now. He highlights themes and images which are important to keep in mind as we decide how to deal with the ugly past that even casual entertainments like this embody.

My own take

One was enough for me. Your mileage may vary. However, I couldn’t resist taking a crack at painting the guy. Like Tarzan, he’s just soooo “masculine” that he’s absolutely, totally, 100% gay. The playful (or should I say cheeky 🍑) recontextualization of masculine imagery is my jam, after all. Funny how the gay vs. macho continuum is actually a snake swallowing its own…ahem, tail. (lol)

Near the beginning of the book, Carter, a Civil War veteran prospecting for gold in the Arizona desert, is attacked by Apaches and left for dead in a cave. He’s not actually dead, but is mysteriously transported, buck naked, to Mars. Why Burroughs chose to have his hero lose his clothes in the process is beyond me. But it just so happens that clothes are not a thing on Mars. I didn’t do a close reading of the book, but near as I can tell, they’re all naked the whole time. Except for armor and ornaments that denote rank, of course. (Ceremonial cock rings, anyone?) Too bad all the various adaptations and depictions don’t just let it all hang out.

I am, of course, depicting the astral Carter in his birthday suit as befits the text. I also chose to suggest, more than depict, the setting as this is not an illustration of the book but rather my own personal response to it.

Progress shots of the new painting. 20 in x 16 in, oil on canvas.

As I was working I had an inspiration. Originally, as you can see in the sketch below, it was just the two figures and moody background. But, an addition suggested itself. A playful bit of surrealism of shotgun shells streaming forth from a bandolier amidst some sensuous and glowing passion flowers. It adds a fun twist, with a bit of mystery and interest, to what could otherwise have been something darker and angstier than I was going for.

And the title? Well, all that’s occurred to me so far is “John Carter, but make it gay”. I love quirky titles, and this has grabbed my attention and just won’t let go. The rest of the particulars: 20 in. x 16 in., oil on linen to be mounted on panel. Drop your details in the box below to stay in the know. Don’t miss your chance to hear when this beauty is ready to go home with you.

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering exclusive sexy art and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

A little modesty, please!

Blaise. Modesty Blaise.

Bond, Bourne, and Hunt, listen up. Yeah, you’re easy on the eyes, but move the heck over. Let Modesty show you how it’s really done. She’s not a mindless weapons of state power. She’s not an emblem of toxic masculinity. She’s not a cop in a tux. She’s her own person, makes her own decisions. She helps those who truly need it, guided by her stern moral code rather than the behest of shadowy government agencies.

Art by Enric Badia Romero

Not too long ago, perusing the new graphic novel shelves at Forbidden Planet (a comic shop in NYC) I came across an arresting anomaly amidst the endlessly repeating parade of super heroes: an issue of Illustrator’s Quarterly dedicated to the five artists that spent time on the Modesty Blaise comic strip.

I had never heard of the strip, but just looking through the book there in the store, I was hooked. The art is gorgeous and sexy AF. Growing up, I loved Mission Impossible, Get Smart, and the Avengers (Steed and Peel, darling, not Cap and crew). So, naturally, I had to know more. Wikipedia and the NYPL came to the rescue.

While I may have been immediately engrossed by a heady combination of artistic skill and nostalgia, it didn’t take long to realize that Modesty is a little different than other luminaries of the secret agent genre—then or now. Her creator, Peter O’Donnell declined to use the term “feminist” preferring instead “individual” to define how he thought of her. Throughout her 40-year run, however, he avoids the usual toxicity of western individuality by balancing it with respect. She demonstrates again and again her respect for others’ individuality, friend and foe alike. And she’s a bad ass that commands that same respect for hers.

The strip is not without its absurdist escapism, questionable exoticism, and troubling depictions common to the genre and time. Like everything in our culture, it’s a mixed bag. Make of it what you will. To me, the good far outweighs the bad. And the bad should still be seen, taken in, reflected upon, and learned from. Modesty always managed to take things in stride, adapt, and grow. She expects no less of us.

two panels of the comic strip Modesty Blaise. First panel, foreground shows two unconscious would-be assailants, Wille and Modesty in the background; modesty is topless. Willie: "Funny...but last time you worked that dodge a couple of years back you got a five second freeze--tonight it was only three." Next panel, Modesty is putting on a bra, Willing is standing by hips cocked. Modesty: "Must be all these sex films, Willie...they're making the nailer obsolete." Willie: "We could appeal to the unions, maybe?"

I’ll leave you with the words of author Stef Penney, from her introduction to one of the reprint collections:

It’s not uncommon for comic strip characters to come from adversity, but there is something special about Modesty Blaise. Not only was she a lone child—the most vulnerable person imaginable—but a stateless orphan: without family, without nationality, without even a name. She is the ultimate Middle-Eastern refugee; the ultimate migrant. At the time of writing, as another refugee crisis builds in the Middle East, and nativism and alt-right politics are on the rise everywhere, a heroine like Modesty is more vital and relevant than ever.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering exclusive sexy art and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

Go Figure

Why the human figure? Of the many things an artist can paint or draw, I always come back to figure drawing. Not that I don’t love a good, dreamy landscape or charming still-life. But time and energy are limited, and the flesh is weak, so I go where the urge, the need is strongest.

It’s all about desire, many kinds of desire. At the bottom of heap is your basic horny lust. Let’s just get that out of the way. Yes, this kind of desire has a number of outlets (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and art is indeed one I turn to. Variety is the spice of life. So, you might ask, am I responding to the deluge of thirst traps by making more? Yes, but they’re artsy, imaginative thirst traps. That’s gotta be worth something.

Not highfalutin enough for you? How about desire for connection? I’d say we all go through life with a longing to see and be seen, to express, to feel, to move, to give and receive pleasure. And the pleasures of the body can be some of the most delightful and leave strong impressions. Art involving the figure can become a physical artifact resonating with memories or echoes of these moments of pleasure.

As we climb this mountain of inspiration, we come next to desire for the impossible, the unobtainable, the just out of reach. Often, my art is inspired by something beyond the physical, just beneath the surface of an image or stolen glance. An undefinable essence, if you will. Making the art is grabbing some inchoate idea from the ether and trying wrestle it into physical existence. Always failing, really. There is no arrival, end point or success–just continual effort.

Finally we arrive the peak of the mountain and take in the wide vista. The desire now is for visions of justice. Figure drawing in my art often depict characters, characters who are in relation to each other and their worlds, whether inner, outer, or both. People are stories, stories are people, drawing one is drawing the other. When I tell you a story, even about the past, I’m trying to shape the present and the future by planting something in your mind. What is that future, what seeds am I sowing? Beauty, power, desire, growth, freedom, pleasure, ecstasy. I want to cultivate in the garden of your imagination a vision of a just, equitable, and truly free society powered by pleasure. Is it working?

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering exclusive sexy art and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

Cover image: Beloved and God, No. 4 (2019, 6 in. x 9 in., gouache on paper)

We are not free labor, we are not the product!

We can all agree that social media is a currently a mess. In its brief history, however, it has opened up amazing and unheard of possibilities for connection and collaboration. Opting out completely would be hard, and a huge loss. Walking away is not the answer to our current woes.

There are alternatives.

For several years now, a quiet revolution has been taking place. It’s only with the very public meltdown of Twitter that a light has been shone upon the quiet little corners of the web where some smart and dedicated people have banded together to create something entirely new.  And it’s called the “fediverse.” I know, darlings, a terrible name right out of the Star Trek Bargain Basement. Bear with me.

In the realm of social media we’re used to the idea of numerous platforms run by various companies coming and going—today it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter where in times past it was Friendster, MySpace, ICQ and so many others. Imagine that they weren’t competing (or colluding) businesses in a capitalistic hellscape but rather interoperating services: log into Twitter, follow a Facebook friend, share an Instagram post all from one place, all in one app, on one timeline.

Take it a step further and imagine this network of networks built on and adhering to a set standard for interoperability that’s maintained by an international, non-governmental body. Add to that free, open source software that can be used to create an endless array of independent, collectively owned and operated social media. Let a thousand anti-Twitters bloom!

Welcome to the fediverse. A network of decentralized, independent social media platforms willingly interoperating by adhering to protocols maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (https://www.w3.org/). 

Mastodon (https://joinmastodon.org) is currently getting all the attention. You may have heard it touted as an alternative Twitter. It certainly is that, but more. Unlike Twitter, there’s actually thousands of Mastodons,  “servers” they’re called, the vast majority running on donations and volunteer labor. Each has its own criteria for joining and rules for moderation. There are server focused on art, technology, journalism, writing, and even, darlings, KINK!! Search a little and you can find your niche while at the same time being able to communicate and follow people on other servers within the fediverse—even on servers that aren’t Mastodon. As long as the other platform follows the conventions, you can connect.

Imagine, if you will, our own queer, smutty twittergram where we share our work and our thoughts without fear of algorithmic erasure, trolls, or weaponized reports.

So, does the fediverse present an opportunity for adventurous and technically adroit smut peddlers? Perhaps. Picture a small niche platform that sets its own community standards that are truly that—norms for the community, not a euphemism for censorship. Imagine, if you will, our own queer, smutty twittergram where we share our work and our thoughts without fear of algorithmic erasure, trolls, or weaponized reports. The community would be self-moderated so appeals, conversation, and learning could happen when conflicts arise. Harassment can be dealt with swiftly, maybe even proactively, ensuring true safety. We dispense with the dehumanizing automated processes we’re subjected to on the commercial platforms. And, darlings, no ads! Let me say that again for those in the back of the room: NO ADS! And did I mention custom emoji?

While I’ve painted quite a rosy picture, creating and maintaining such a space online and interconnecting with thousands of others online communities, some healthy, some not so much, is helluva lotta work. For all the promise, there are perils to consider. In the next post of this little miniseries, we’ll dig into these concerns a little more. 

I’ll also share some advice on how to get started in the fediverse. You may have been warned away by threats of “it’s complicated.” Yes, compared to Twitter or Instagram, it is more complicated. The payoff, however, is more control over the key aspects of your experience, communication, privacy, and safety.

In the meantine, if you’re already on Mastodon or another fediverse platform, hit me up at https://artisan.chat/@papertiger.

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering exclusive sexy art and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).

Cover photo by Braxton Apana via Unsplash

Watches of the Night

A new series of small paintings

As Shakyamuni Buddha sat under the bodhi tree on the night of his enlightenment, the demon Mara and his hordes attacked him with scores and scores of arrows. Gently touching the ground, the Buddha called upon the power of the earth and quietly transformed the arrows to flowers. An assault became a delicate shower of soft petals, glistening in the moonlight.

painting of standing male figure from the neck down; he's naked except for athletic socks and chuck taylor sneakers; he's standing on a yellow brick road flanked by impossibly large crocus flowers
Gathering saffron
7 in x 5 in, oil on panel

A core tenant of Buddhist thought is the power of transformation. Harm becomes healing, pain becomes joy. Among the volleys of Mara’s arrows hurtling towards us constantly are images of aggressive masculinity—athletes, soldiers, superheroes. These chiseled rocks are to be admired or emulated. These paragons of rugged individuality express a need, a propulsion to dominate. They embody this dominance in their physiques. (Just think about how right-wing the pursuit of physique is these days.) These physiques are now deeply connected in the popular culture with a toxicity that is slowly killing us all, even the right-wing, iron-pumping meatheads who think they’re invincible due to the size of their biceps (and egos). In the way the Buddha teaches us to transform Mara’s arrows into flowers, we can remake these physiques, these emblems of toxic masculinity, into dreaming, dancing, and true pleasure.

These small paintings combine abstract floral elements with male figures–active, passive, sensual, erotic, pornographic. Occasional hints of surrealism decorate a few of them. They aim to re-contextualize. Transformation becomes possible because nothing is absolute or inherent. It’s all relative. The same thing (bulging bicep, erect penis) harms in one setting, heals in another. Are the bicep and the penis inherently one thing or another? I want this series to invite you to look beyond a singular object or person and instead zoom out and take in the surroundings as well. Expand your consciousness to appreciate as much of the whole as you can.

painting of two men, from the shoulders up, one behind the other passionately grabbing his neck, the one in front head thrown back in ecstasy; they set against a backdrop of vibrant purple wisteria
9 in x 12 in, oil on panel

These little gems set out to sparkle–not broadcast. They’re diminutive of size but their vivid colors and evocative imagery attract attention. Like a walk in a garden, you catch a glimpse of a delicate creature coyly flirting with visibility among the flowers. You feel a brief spark that invites a longer look and maybe leaves a gently joyous, lingering sensation. They lighten the mood. They add a spring to your step as you catch a glimpse on your way out the door or settle in for a night bingeing the latest MCE (Marvel Cinematic Extravaganza).

Sexy bois with big…botanicals!

A series of miniatures featuring the sensual muscularity of male figures transformed from dominance to delight with graceful floral imagery.

The erotic as continuum–not binary

If you haven’t read the lovely book Never Say You Can’t Survive by Charlie Jane Anders, I suggest you do. In it she encourages us to tell our stories—even if just to ourselves—to fight the darkness always at the door. Storytelling is important to my work, and to my soul, so I’m always exploring the various nooks and crannies, drives and desires that propel new stories out of the darkness. Darling, when you think about it, it’s really quite amazing: something exists where there was nothing; something different, ever so subtly, from everything that came before and will come after.

The ruminations inspired by her book included thoughts about sex and storytelling. Namely, why is sex, and the erotic in general, segregated in our storytelling? We have our erotic stories in this bucket over here, discreetly tucked away to not offend the utterly hypocritical puritans of modern western society. Then we have everything else over here, proudly displayed in the bright lights. And these two buckets are governed by a host of rules, explicit and unspoken, generally about keeping them as far apart as possible. Never the twain shall meet!

The roots of these taboos are deep, but I did read recently something that’s really stuck with me: “People who are out of touch with their bodies are a lot easier to control.” Indeed! How about we make things a little more difficult for these would-be puppet masters?

I’m sad to admit it, darling, but I totally observed—even believed in—these horrible rules for far too long. Too many times have I thought: “can’t add that to the story” or that being suggestive is more “artistic.” (Seriously, wtf does that even mean?) What about treating the erotic as a continuum rather than binary? Hiding it away makes it an either/or proposition. Really, isn’t it about the range of options from Debbie Does Dallas to Hallmark after schools specials? (Wow, did I just date myself there or what, darling?!)

Work that is pure celebration of the erotic? Wonderful! Work that has no visible presence of the erotic? Also wonderful! I’m sure there will be lots of both in my future. Deepening a scene, character, or image with an erotic charge? Still a work in progress. Using explicit sex scenes as a way to move a story forward? Yep, still figuring that one out. Not slut-shaming myself? God, where to begin?!

Wonderful as all this is, there’s another consideration. Self-expression is deeply interconnected with responsibility. The more expressive I am, the more responsibility I carry to inform and respect your consent. You, darling, need to know what you’re in for so you can say “heck yeah, bring it on!” or “nah, thanks, I’m good.” This is as much a work in progress for me as all the other quandaries I enumerated above. This is not slut-shaming or censorship, it’s something else, something more caring.

So, darlings, I hope you’ll join me on this erotic adventure to unravel the binaries wherever we find them!

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

Drop your email in the box to get the Queer Quantum Dispatch, delivering exclusive sexy art and irreverent musings on making queer joy bloom. Be turned on, be entertained, be the envy of your friends (and bonus points for pissing off that fundamentalist in your life).