Today Gay Times (GT) magazine unveiled their new cover, an airbrushed photo of two almost-naked twin brothers with the headline of ‘TWIN TIME’ and a promise that they tell all about their ‘life in porn’. GT’s twitter account soon after tweeted the non-question “Is it immoral to put gay twin brothers in hardcore porn, or just really, really hot?” If it wasn’t clear from the salacious cover that they had already answered this, the panting article description they linked to made their position clear. HOT HOT HOT!
Perhaps I wouldn’t have thought twice about this if not for the fact that my fiancé has a twin brother who is also gay. He has told me many times about his distaste, repulsion even, for the sexualisation of twins. He and his brother have had plenty of sleazy comments over the years. Imagine, he once said, that someone suggested to you that they have sex with you and your brother. Imagine how that would make you feel.
The thought was horrible to me, of course. The incest taboo is hardwired into us, with its very real associations with familial abuse, violence and genetic abnormalities. No doubt this strong taboo is what draws some towards it as a sexual fantasy. Yet having this taboo ‘fantasy’ put front and centre in the UK’s most famous gay magazine, found in newsagents alongside FHM, GQ and the like, was a surprise to say the least. Certainly it’s common knowledge that times are hard for magazines, yet breathless prose about how these brothers are ‘breaking boundaries’ with their films such as ‘Brother Fuckers’ is something you may expect to find in obscure magazines sold in Soho basements rather than the leading mainstream ‘gay lifestyle’ title.
What makes it worse is the sheer disingenuousness of it. GT acknowledged questions of morality in their tweet, yet it’s a cursory nod to possible ‘controversy’, attempting to pre-empt criticism. The blurb on the website follows a similar tactic and it’s clear that there is no serious engagement with the issues surrounding incest (and it’s certainly an area which there has been some recent debate) or the commodification of familial intimacy. Instead they want to titillate, to arouse, to sell, while paying lip service to the notion that there may be something distasteful in their actions.
There are a plethora of issues and questions raised by the cover. Not a day goes by without some piece appearing in the liberal media about misogyny and the commodification of women, yet here we have the hyper-sexualised commodification of twin brothers and implicit appeal of breaking the incest taboo. It’s a magazine created by men, for men, using the sexualisation of one of the most emotionally intimate relationships we can experience to generate profit. At a stroke it underlines how complex issues of objectification and exploitation are against a media which increasingly pursues the line that objectification = men degrading women.
Indeed, if aforementioned GQ or FHM featured two almost-naked sisters on their cover with similar text, making capital of their appearance in films such as ‘Sister Fucker’, I think there would be swift and widespread disgust and condemnation. Just as the current campaign to end Page 3 in The Sun rests heavily on the notion of patriarchy and the objectification of women by men, this would be held up as an example of widespread and fundamental misogyny. Does it become more acceptable if it’s men exploiting men? I would think not – certainly women who have positions of authority in the porn industry aren’t widely excused from complicity in objectification etc. Yet images of semi-naked men are common in the media and don’t arouse a fraction of the ire or comment which equivalent images of women do. Saying ‘it’s because of patriarchy’ is an immensely unsatisfying explanation for this.
This is further complicated by issues of sexuality and its representation. Again, I think it’s fair to say that gay men are indulged far more in their attitudes towards other gay men than straight men are in their treatment of women. In this recent Guardian piece on ‘creepy’ sites which post images of unsuspecting women for men to leer at, sites like Tubecrush (where gay men post photos of unsuspecting men) were completely absent. We tend to respond differently to men tweeting sexual remarks (and even insults based on appearance) about men they’re watching on television than we do to men tweeting about women. I would argue that the idea of gay men as sexually liberated and ‘fun’ is relatively widespread in the media (I still can’t believe that Caitlin Moran once put out a column about gay men being the ‘ultimate accessory’ and it didn’t end her career.) The kneejerk response to gay expressions of sexuality, however base they may be, is to indulge them and paint those who object as at best uptight, at worst a bigot. The collective bogeyman that is homophobia can, in these circumstances, prove to be enabling of behaviour few liberal-minded people would tolerate from straight men.
This can lead to a staggering lack of self-awareness and some curious logical contortions. A recent and common bugbear for many in the gay community was the tendency for some newsagents to place Gay Times and Attitude magazine on their top shelves, alongside the porn magazines. The cry of ‘homophobia’ spread, with advocates pointing to the scantily clad women adorning men’s magazines which were displayed on lower shelves. Yet I have absolutely no doubt that many of those who took up this cause would identify themselves as ‘feminists’. It seems a curious demand for equality, then, to ask that we be accorded the same ‘right’ to sexualise the shelves with heavily airbrushed images. The more difficult question would be to ask why ‘naked’ and ‘sex’ issues are such an increasingly common ploy for these magazines that it’s at the point of self-parody. Indeed, even male celebrities can rarely adorn covers unless they have some flesh on display. It could even be argued that this is seen as a far more respectable thing for male celebrities to do than female ones, which if true raises many other issues.
This cover, then, seems like a logical progression from this atmosphere. I doubt anyone involved in it would expect any serious backlash. Instead many men will salivate over the imagery and the ‘transgression’ and few people will bat an eyelid. In asking why this is and examining our own responses to the questions raised, I think we raise some uncomfortable and demanding questions.