In this image, the camera facilitates the recording and archiving of a queer image, in which the ‘masculinity’ of the subject is complicated with the inscription of an aestheticised ‘female’ identity. The act of photography is itself revealed as a queer practice, releasing the subject into the interpretive possibilities of a queer space.
The tight framing of the image and the exclusion of the remainder of the subject’s body recalls medical photography, in which essentialist definitions of gender and sex were inscribed through the referencing of ‘male’ or ‘female’ genitalia, and the sexually ambiguous or queer subject was often constituted as unnatural and pathological. In this image, the tattoo of female genitalia, coloured in ‘unnatural’ painterly hues, jars in its artificiality, in the manner of an illustration from a medical textbook.
However, the distancing and voyeuristic practises of medical photography are downplayed by the camera’s close focus on the subject’s body, which invites an intimate observation of the blend of tattooed ink with the subject’s skin, pores and body hair. The camera invites the viewer into close familiarity with the subject, like a lover, in which the image is non-threatening, tactile and aesthetically striking.
The camera’s exclusion of the remainder of the subject’s body releases the image from normative gendered narratives of identity. Though nominally a ‘male’ body, the camera’s tight focus refuses to provide a defined and gendered identity, acting instead as a queering methodology for the body and the construction of the subject.
The tantalising ambiguity of this inscribed body, freed from a larger body narrative or social context, allows for a number of interpretations. The normative claims of the body as the site of the ‘natural’, authentically constructed and immutable subject are challenged by the tattoo, which carries its own narrative of permanence. As the ‘artificial’ tattoo inscribes and rewrites the surfaces and meanings of the body, the body’s narrative of ‘naturalness’ and ‘permanence’ is revealed as a fiction. The camera invites us to observe the subject’s genitals not as markers of ‘male’ sexuality and gender, but instead as a living canvas upon which versions of new and possibly queer identities may be inscribed and revised.
The inscribing of female genitalia on a nominally male body may record a moment of gender transition from ‘male’ to ‘female’. The penis is augmented and ornamented by the female genitalia, creating an imaginative projection of a gender/identity transition – the tattoo as a blueprint for a greater transformation, whether physical or psychological, still to come. The intimacy created by the camera’s framing and the aesthetic synthesis between flesh and image suggests an idealised vision of sexual androgyny or hermaphroditism. The strategic adoption of the colours of the LGBT rainbow flag suggests the adoption of a queer sensibility.
Through the camera lens, we see a utopian vision of gender ambiguity and multiplicity, in which the camera acts both as a queering methodology and a queer archival practice. Male and female genitalia, biological and constructed, are freed from their normative uses as reproductive organs and markers of sexual differentiation, and co-exist in an open-ended queer space of exciting new biological, aesthetic and narrative possibilities.