THE LAIRD HOTEL’s Men on Men Art Competition: A Celebration of Masculinity (ugh/why/seriously?)

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Recently The Laird Hotel in Abbotsford, Victoria, ran its latest art competition. The winner was this piece entitled “Guys” by an Asian Australian gay guy named Andrew Li.

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Let’s start with the title of the competition: Men on Men Art Competition – A Celebration of Masculinity. Seriously The Laird Hotel! You couldn’t think of a better name for your competition? Or could you simply not resist buying into the modern gay man’s culture of homophobia? Pathetic really! Once again we have gay males with no understanding of the complexities of gender, no understanding of the homophobic ideologies that uphold concepts of “masculinity”, and no place representing the queer community, making idiotic language choices that only serve to perpetuate the very homophobia and stereotypes they always claim to be breaking.

So, whilst The Laird thinks it’s doing something lovely in celebrating “masculinity”, what it really is doing is celebrating a gender identity that, by its very nature, is homophobic at the core. (An abridged version of Kimmel’s incredibly convincing arguments regarding the inherent homophobia of masculinity can be found here, but I would encourage anyone with access to find his full treatment of the concept and read it at least ten times!).

Anyways, let’s move on, as this is not meant to be just an attack on The Laird, even though it remains a space where too many insecure gay men go to project their insecurities onto each other as they attempt to reclaim a sense of lost heteromasculinity by posing like “real blokes” behind a pot of beer and a flannel shirt. That shit may have been acceptable in the 70’s, but as modern queers we really need to be moving on from this adolescent self-hating model of manhood. Especially modern queers who like to pepper their language with such idiotic phrases as “contemporary masculinity”. 

On The Laird‘s website were the following appraisal’s of the piece by the so-called “judges”:

“I want to be in this picture. This piece is so unique, which is why it stands out. Couldn’t stop looking at it or the boys. Very Melbourne too. Loved that there’s a guy with a bear singlet!” James Findlay

“The standout! Strong image, very now.” David Hunt

“Great modern image of contemporary masculinity”. Mystery Judge

If by “very Melbourne” James Findlay means the gay males depicted in the piece are wearing the uniforms typical of today’s “masc drag” then yes, it is very Melbourne. In that sense I’d agree with David Hunt that the piece is “very now”. How you can read “contemporary masculinity” into the piece, as the “mystery judge” did, is anyone’s guess. The people in the image are signified as all male, but surely “contemporary masculinity” includes FTM trans men as well? Couldn’t get more contemporary than that. Although we must remember that the concept of trans men in the gay male community in Melbourne is still a very thorny subject, with many a transphobic gay male holding on to dear life to their self-delusional beliefs that their precious “gay spaces” must be reserved solely for those of us born with a penis (The Laird denies entry to female people and women regardless of gender identity). The point: don’t use terms you don’t understand! “Contemporary masculinity” deserves the inclusion of at least one FTM individual. And while The Laird’s website claims to attract a “masculine” crowd, I can assure everyone that the only gay men you will meet there are queens, or people so insecure about their gender expression they are bursting their appendix trying to “act masc” – and they never do a good job at it anyway.

In MCV: Melbourne Community Voice (which is the local, corporatised, politically diluted glossy gay rag that barely represents the voice of the community unless that voice is a mainstream LGBT cheerleader focused solely on gay marriage and HIV), states the following about the artwork:

“we feel its contemporary take on gay male culture is a representation of gay men that we don’t often see”. (p.6, 25 June 2014)

Again, I’m really not sure where these people come up with this sort of rubbish. The fact the gay males in the image are wearing the standard gay masc-drag uniform contradicts the idea that we rarely see this sort of representation of gay males. By the way, the person who wrote this for MCV was none other than one of the judges, James Findlay. James, sweetie, have ya not been out and about lately in Melbourne? Or are you one of those gays who sees a single fag in hot pants and glitter and immediately has a meltdown, screaming as you run for the hills “ALL THE GAYS LOOK THE SAME!!!!!!!!!!!! THEY’RE ALL TWINKS AND QUEENS!!!!!!!!! HELP!!!!!!!!” FACT CHECK: the image of gay men in glitter, hot pants, or Lady Gaga-ing it up is in steep decline these days. Time to stop pretending that the images of gay men portrayed in the above piece are anything other than the norm.

Li himself was quoted in the MCV piece as saying he wanted “to capture a greater sense of diversity in the drawing.” I commend the intention, but even though I can see he has tried to include some racial diversity in the image, I don’t think it was all that convincing. And then when you realise that The Laird is an intensely white establishment, this image and the award bestowed upon it seem to be more about creating warm fuzzies regarding social acceptance within the gay community, despite there being no actual diversity-acceptance to speak of. An Asian gay male can enter the premises at The Laird, but he will be one of the only Asian gay males there, and whilst he may be lucky enough to find some polite conversation (maybe someone will talk to him, but probably not), it won’t be long before he realises he is in a room full of white gays who overwhelmingly find only other whites attractive. One doesn’t need to be confronted with the words NO ASIANS in the Melbourne scene to know that Asians are not exactly considered to be catch of the day. And this aspect of the hotel is exaggerated in the extreme when it holds dance parties such as Thick ‘n’ Juicy, where the A-list white bears take over and invisibilise any patron of any colour, size, and shape, who doesn’t fit the following “contemporary masculine” trope: 

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(Want acceptance and attention in the gay world of Melbourne? Then you better make sure you look like one of these guys, otherwise you might as well fuck off and die.)

I applaud Li for making this piece, and I don’t begrudge him any attention or reward his artwork receives. I just think the “celebration” of diversity and the claim to “contemporary masculinity” by the judges are disingenuous coming as they do from places like The Laird that don’t actually support diversity or acceptance in practice (albeit unintentionally). They might mean to and want to but the reality is that places like The Laird and Sircuit remain dominantly white gay establishments, and will continue to remain so as long as the gay media like MCV continue to plaster white men and regurgitate white standards of beauty and thinking all over their publications.

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