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Liberation and its Limits: Negotiating Queer Male Sexuality in Arthur Tress’ 1977
Adding to multiple 1960s and 70s American ‘liberation narratives’, Gay Liberation mobilized
social progress through essentialized representation. Shot in industrial ruins of Manhattan’s
Chelsea piers historic gay cruising sites Arthur Tress’ 1977 photograph,
features a white male poking his penis through a cardboard Superman cutout. The merging of
Tress’ male model with Superman’s artifice produces multiple readings of an incorporated
double body. Examining the secret identity archetype as queer metaphor, oblique relations to
masculine myths like Superman highlight broader negotiations with nationalism neocolonial
orderings of the “American way” are bound to Gay Liberation itself, recuperated as a
. A black and white photograph excluding Persons of Color,
chromatically fuses the
of its characters, exposing a gendered racism in neoliberal
imaginaries: queer cis white males are displaced by heterosexist matrices, but remain “gay
figureheads” from privileges of race and ‘biological’ sex. Branding the queer white male body,
Superman acquires new genitals, physically coopting ‘Othered’ sexuality into flat construction:
fantasy becomes a vehicle for control and domination. However, penetrating the cutout is a
symbolic act of queer vigilantism, echoing Superman’s heroic acts outside the law through
postStonewall illegalities of samesex relations. Viewing identity as a tenet of capitalism,
liberation when paired with time: the
only way out is through. This latter point locates current possibility and tension for liberation,
‘speeding up’ global capital toward imminent rupture through cybernetic projection. Virtualities
like social media mutate agency, complicating liberation in a superpowered patriarchy.
Fiber Print 1977