Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gender identity.

I just returned from a very random trip to California. I had planned to return at the beginning of the month so I could see how beautiful San Francisco supposedly is in the winter months, but I was having my family emergency (mentioned previously) -- and it was actually quite beautiful this time, no fog! But either way, due to a couple recent experiences I've had, the time is finally ripe to discuss my gender identity and how it affects my modeling.

I've always been open that I'm gender queer - an androgyne, or genderful, or gender-neutral, what have you -- and it's gone without much negative response. This is probably due to my gender presentation in modeling being primarily cisgender. I look like (most) everyone's conception of a woman, so people typically aren't bothered by it. It has only been on one occasion that someone contacted me offering to shoot portraits, and I explained my desire to express my gender identity in an honest portrait -- they lost interest, became very rude, said they were only interested in shooting me in a way in which I had a feminine presentation (which I wasn't against doing for a trade shoot), and God. They just flat-out refused to shoot with me after that, in any way.

While I was in San Francisco, walking down Mission Street, some man yelled: "You're beautiful, baby! ...even though you look like a man." I know damn well what I look like, and when such comments are aimed at maiming. I promptly flicked him off without much investment. About ten minutes later, someone called me "sir," which is actually my preferred form of address, however... I'm so used to compensating, in a sense, for people's embarrassment and mistakes that I too become embarrassed. He didn't show any embarrassment, so I just walked away feeling unsettled by the experience that my gender expression was being taken into account, for once, only for it to be completely incorrect (my outfit was a mixture, but certainly not masculine).

Ever since I started cutting my hair, "Is that a girl or a boy?" has become a constant. I've come to understand that in most instances involving adults, it's used as a method of voicing one's disapproval of my appearance ("He, she, whatever it is," "...that little boy") rather than actual confusion. They do it out of disrespect, or an attempt to offend me by calling me the opposite of what they think I am.* Children are just learning gender, unfortunately, so I don't put much weight into their words... but I do put a lot of weight into their parents' lack of action. I have never heard a parent with their child say "Don't say that, that's rude!" Never. When one can't be identified, according to the binary, I somehow always manage to lose my personhood. I'm not worth sticking up for, because I don't have a gender. I'm doing something wrong. I don't deserve to be treated with any amount of dignity. What is up with that?

Why do people need to know what's in my pants in order to feel at ease with themselves? Why must I be uncomfortable as a result of this? It would be so much easier to just snap at them, "I'M A GIRL/WOMAN." But what is it that they actually want to know? To tell them I'm a female, which I am, is to give them an incorrect idea of who I am according to their discourse. It's all fucked up.

Sexism and transphobia are far more ingrained in our culture than even racism, because the sexes and genders are undeniably, physiologically different in both form and function. (Though if you have a penis, why don't you ask yourself why you have nipples -- then you can recognize our actual sameness, and hopefully how "nature vs. nurture" is completely cyclical and self-feeding.) When it comes to modeling, especially fashion, there seems to be a greater appreciation of varying degrees of attractiveness and beauty. People are constantly lambasting fashion's standards (to ironically opt for a more male-oriented, fertile image of feminine beauty) yet they don't realize that it's giving a place to alternative forms of beauty that would most often go unappreciated in any other era. Excuse any insensitivity I express when I say this, born with the body I was: If you're going to let a magazine, or even a man, decide your beauty... You need to re-evaluate yourself and get over the scapegoating. If you have a problem with how I look, don't scapegoat me. Attack the system that glorifies my body, as I do. I'm taking responsibility for the power I've been given, and I appreciate beauty from every walk of life. Practically, and even reproductively, why would anyone want to be built like a fashion model? Get asked if they're anorexic all the time. Told to eat a burger.

Finally... I want to embrace my androgyny more in my modeling. I've only really done so twice prior to this, and here's one of my favorite examples (by Perry Manuk):

* - In China, many people just flat-out asked me (which is also rude), and I had one woman that made a sincere mistake when I walked into the women's bathroom at the airport, so I wasn't mad, just frustrated at Chinese people and gender. 

Charles Nevols, San Francisco.

Tense shoot simply due to how public the location was -- but he is always very kind, and somewhat challenging. We got some excellent results this round. :)

Purebred, San Francisco.

He thinks a lot about his work, and makes so many interesting images. In working with him, I got to explore a different style of posing I'm not usually able to experiment with (though I want to, since my grand realization). Here's one of them.


Old people can very well be sexy. Yet it is often found tasteless and unappealing when they do so in a way that beckons to a youth that doesn't belong to them -- when they dress or pose in a way younger than their age. But, how else are they supposed to be actively sexy? I'd really like to explore that.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Grandmothers and Models.

It's no longer a phenomenon the number of models that lose grandmothers for the sake of not showing up to a shoot. I've never used such an excuse; I tend to be pretty honest about why I can't or might not want to shoot. However... at no point in my life could I have ever been comfortable using it had I been in a flaky punk mood. I was born with three grandparents - of which, my Grandaddy died when I was 6 or 7, my Nana died when I was 11, and I have been with only one grandmother for just over half of my life.

This is for that Grandma, who I shall carry with me beyond a mere blog post. I don't even know if I'll be able to sum up just how much she's affected me.

Growing up, I spent half my time at my grandmother's house in DC. My father at one point worked three or four jobs, my mother was also full-time and getting a degree -- they depended on my grandmother quite a bit when it came to a lot of things. I only had a babysitter very early on in my life, of whom I have very few memories of. So the hours, days, weeks, months, I inevitably spent with my grandmother were always occupied by some project she gave me to do. I colored, drew, cut paper lanterns, climbed trees, did cartwheels in the back yard, made friends with stray cats and dogs, learned to sew, read books, watched her wash and wring laundry (the old way),  begged her for pineapple cookies, and harassed her dog. She supported my artistic tendencies and listened to a lot of my young musings that no one else had time for. She watched Jeopardy, did puzzles, quilted, wrote letters, read as she ate and drank her black coffee.

For the beginning of my life, I didn't feel anywhere near as close to her. I found her mean, and I wondered if she was a witch because of her cat-shaped glasses. But there came a point in time where I spent summers with her. I would sleep over her house, and she would wake me up early so I could watch cartoons. I was excited to go to Sunday school with her, even though I was often her only student. A lot of the time I would crawl around in the choir aisle as she played the organ during service. She'd give me cough drops to shut me up. And then we would walk back home and she would make us Campbell's southwest-style chicken soup (which they no longer make in this area) and chicken sandwiches with mayonnaise and salt and pepper. With milk. Those are by far some of my favorite memories of her.

In high school, things began going downhill for her. I don't recall when it was she had her stroke (she's had several), but it was before I went to college. She had already become more forgetful, and my mother would come over and organize all her medicine for her. (One of the last conscious decisions she made regarding me was to cosign my student loan to attend art school.) But after this particular stroke, my aunt and uncle moved up here to help her. Somewhere in the years they lived with her, she started sleeping on her couch and stopped walking. Stopped moving. Many times throughout this process, I would fight with my father and end up sleeping at her house. Except as the years went on, she was no longer there. My parents moved her into their house. Probably as late as 2010, she was still able to hobble to the front door and back -- to the kitchen, to the bathroom. I organized my school schedule around her lunch time (among many other things) to help take care of her. The Alzheimer's and dementia slowly began eating away at her. I started living in her house by myself.

This past June, she had another stroke. Her already-afflicted communication abilities were greatly affected, her motor skills even more greatly handicapped. The process was so slow and grueling, to even reflect on this surprises me how drastically things changed. My mother moved herself and my grandmother back into the house with me, where I struggled with the change. We broke down my grandfather's organ console and put a hospital bed in her living room. Nurses and therapists would come and go. She had to eat mushy food and thickened water. She had reached her second childishness. I was never able to help her as much as I wished I could. And she had long ago stopped drawing, quilting, puzzling, or reading, and didn't want to watch tv. She didn't know what year it was, or where she was - sometimes she didn't even recognize me or my mother. But she would always, for the most-part, smile. It felt so good to make her laugh, when I was just feeling silly and dancing around the house, or showing her my newest costumes that I'd made.

Just a few months ago, I showed my grandmother some of my art nudes by Billy Monday and magicstudio (I had to tell her that they were me). She told me, "Good for you." That she was happy for me, that she had sat for a few art classes herself (clothed, I'm sure), and that it was cool that I was able to do such things. It made me so happy, in spite of all the negative parts of this grueling. When I still haven't been able to tell my parents upfront the extent of my modeling, she accepted me. And supported me.

More than anyone I've known, she's supported me.

She turned 88 on November 1st, and died on November 3rd, in her home as she would have wanted. It's been a pretty miserable situation, due to the complexities of emotions I've experienced the past five or six  years. For a long time I adamantly felt as though my real grandmother was dead, though sometimes she would make a visit here or there. But it's so important, realizing just how much she's affected me in her love and non-judgment of others. I've hardly covered just how important she is to me.

And I'm going to miss her terribly, regardless of which phase of her life I'm remembering.

Nana, me, and Grandma.

High school graduation. 

I think I was pretending to steal her cake or something. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

By the wonderful Jeff Wack.

I'd have put this in my portfolio already, but my membership expired again. Beautiful, though, isn't it? :)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Artistic vs. Sexual Objectification vs. Human Experience (NSFW)

I've decided to address my perceptions of sex and objectification. Photographer's comment:
Its not all "objectification" or inherently negative. I appreciate flowers, landscapes, babies and much of creation in a deep sense. Albeit mostly carried to perverted/distorted degrees. Eroticism is in the eye of the beholder, not the beholden. 
I'm a radical feminist. But as I mentioned previously, I'm a sex-positive one. Sex shouldn't carry the double standards it does. Sex shouldn't be "biologically" acceptable for one end of the sex spectrum (males) and not the other. It shouldn't hold the stigma it does. It shouldn't garner more disrespect for women engaging in sexual expression than it would for men. However...

The way I want to perceived, as mentioned, is beyond my control. And yet, why shouldn't I, the beheld, object to how you're perceiving me if I find it incorrect? I'm not a publicly sexual creature. If I want to portray a feeling of "sexy," I will hunt down a bad-ass photographer and do so - which you'll have probably seen, if you're coming from my portfolio. If I'm walking down the street, minding my own business, and someone approaches me in a way I don't appreciate, chances are I'll respond negatively (or do my best to ignore them). If I didn't take part in this artistic process to please anyone in an erotic sense, I should damn well be able to say so. Whether it changes your opinion or not is another thing. But if it misrepresents my work on my own page - and on a list page, because I'm surrounded by the spreads legs of women that are deliberately intending to garner an erotic perception - I'd like to add my two cents. And I certainly don't appreciate being pretty much told, as I hear it constantly, to just sit back and be something to look at since I have no control anyway.

So, I do agree with most of this comment. Not all objectification is inherently negative. Not all sexual expression is inherently negative. I say this in regards to the fact that many times a month, I allow people to artistically objectify me in exchange for monetary compensation. It's odd how many times I flinch hearing "the nose," or "the ear" come from an instructor's mouth. It's my nose. And my ear. But I know the process artists must undergo to capture such images. And I doubt they're capturing the life of the model as much as they're capturing their own. Either way. I've always considered the difference between erotica and pornography to be the fact that subjects retain their personhood in the former, while lose it to play a more primal role in the latter. Erotica, in a sense, is  thus less objectifying than fine art. And no one seems to care to explain just why it's such a tradition to capture and embrace the nude form in the art community... the  appreciation is more often taught than acquired from a naturalist point of view. So come on. It had to have originated in eroticism, not just practical anatomy - look at who dominated the production of classical figure work.

While I shouldn't be so offended by the term "erotic" after my above discussion, I cringe in its use in describing my intended figurative work. I'm one who also finds beauty in the nude human form, and I'm able to compartmentalize whatever sexual response I might have. But I don't know if I'm just really good at it, or it just takes a lot to garner a physical/emotional response as far as my eros goes - because I rarely have a problem. Even before I was taught to appreciate the human figure (after graduating from Catholic school), nudity and nakedness didn't ever cause me to respond in such a way. If anything, it used to horrify me. (Another story for the books.)

To say anything highlighting the body, and not the person, is anything remotely... Hell, is it really erotic? It could be figurative, glamour, or pornographic. Sensual, one might say to my image in question. And sensual is something sensually engaging, as is sex. But groan to rhetoric. I'd much prefer to make sensual work than erotic. But you'd be surprised there are several photographers that change my opinion of that... and I may highlight them later.

I'd prefer instead to share some of my favorite artfully-shot pubic subjects on MM:


Thursday, September 22, 2011


This idea flips so many aspects of society on its head. And I giggled. I'd post a preview, but they stand better together than they do alone. :)

From my most recent shoot with Lionel of eYeWonder Photography...

Lionel is always such a joy to work with, because he always manages to render such beauty from the most simple things. Not to mention, I always feel at ease, like it's me in particular that the shot is waiting for - it's not the "Oh, we can find any other model for this" type of pressure that I feel sometimes. That's damn good if you ask me.
Side note: I'll be making a Tumblr soon. I'm also thinking of buying a full-lace human hair wig so I can throw myself at commercial agencies. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Why does beauty have an expiration date? The older I begin to look, the less people will want to see me. In contradiction to my sentiment that beauty doesn't fade with youth, I look forward to the time when people will feel less obligated to sexualize me for being an older female, when they feel forced to reference my youth to determine my worth... As older heterosexual men continue in their choice of the ripest (or pre-ripe) fruit of society, I'll be damn fine without the added judgment.

Monday, September 19, 2011

How I feel about the "male gaze."

I feel utterly powerless. And I've only felt this way once before: I wrestled for three years in high school, thinking I was making a difference. But, no matter how I seek to empower myself by reclaiming my form (or kicking a dude's ass) regardless of the viewer, my being nude doesn't actually do anything, nor empower anyone. I am to forever fall victim to the sexual objectification of heterosexual, cisgender men, because it is appropriated by a patriarchal society. It is hegemonic. It is biologically "normal." It is excused by pop science, because people want to justify mindless hedonism. First, the idea of being roughed up and straddled by a female turned them on. Now, after completely putting myself out there, which I have no shame in doing, it is this:

I don't feel shame in it since your beauty is just the way I choose to release. I hope you can see past that and not think I'm a creep just because of my biology.

I am under the assumption that this is a male, but know I did actually give thought to the fact that anonymous poster could be of any sex or gender. However, I shall respond further, academically. I've only recently figured out just why I'm fed up with my portrayal in modeling, and why it all feels the same. And one of the reasons is the male gaze. Please read it, and keep it in mind when you're shooting women or being shot by men. It is so tiresome to be inherently sexual when in real life, you don't engage in much overt sexual expression. Even though I regard myself as a sex-positive feminist, believing that women don't need to be held to double standards in the sexual sphere (etc., more on that later, probably), my own sexual preferences are private. Prude? Hell no. But it's nobody's business who I invite into my bed - male, female, intersex, trans, young, old, this, that. I would love to preserve my autonomy rather than suffer at the states of helplessness I probably encounter in the minds of others.

Another good article to read is burlesqueer performer Femme 6's My Manifesto! Part I. History. She provides a lot of insight to this struggle that I greatly appreciate.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I have never considered myself my modeling. Of course, I feel I contribute to the creation of the image in ways other people would do/contribute to differently, but... the way I live my life is completely different from my photos. Same goes for a lot of models. But in reality, I have a tendency to look like this:

Or this, if you can find me:

I'm sure you get the idea. I also self-identify in ways that would surprise many people (with gender, "race," feminism, political views) which have a profound affect on my modeling. I don't want this blog to be a shit-ton of  navel-gazing, but the comment on my first post really bothered the hell out of me. I created this blog to show the depth of my decisions when it comes to putting myself out there the way I do. Not enough people talk about that. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I would like to introduce myself.

My name is Cwen, among other things. I have been modeling since July of 2007 - that makes it four years and two months. While I have never been signed with an agency or been featured in many publications, I would still call myself rather accomplished. I have a solid portfolio with a variety of genres under my belt, the strongest (according to me) being figure work. If there wasn't this lingering phobia of constant objectification, even subjectification, I could probably go somewhere financially and even popularly.

But I find shame in using my body exclusively to earn money, when I can't control the way people perceive the images I help create. Regardless of what genre I pursue, there will always be some creep wacking off to one of my photos somewhere at some point in time. I've traced some of my art nudes to erotic sites, so of that I can be sure. While I can normally shake that darker side of reality, I can't ignore the issue when the men (very rarely do I work with female photographers) in front of me are suddenly in half-shadow. I want to trust those I work with. I want to be respected. I want to use my brain.

I recently reached the point that modeling is utterly pointless. I'm either to rarely be respected as a human, or rarely respected as an artist. I'm to be approached by people to be underpaid, I'm to constantly lower my standards in order to make a mildly productive living. When I reached this conclusion, I also worry that I may have offended one of the few photographers I was working with for the right reason. This photographer made me feel human, made me feel interested in what I was doing, gave me hope in those around me. Everyone else I worked with that week smashed my perceptions, overworked me, and subjected me to the same trite compositions everyone is looking for. They broke me. I lost my joy in this part of the creative process.

If modeling can't be fun, why am I doing it? Though I'm on hiatus, I've shot a couple times since I returned from California (2 weeks ago). I enjoyed those shoots with familiar people. I felt challenged. I enjoyed the people I surrounded myself with. I could be honest. We produced greatness. I can't wait to share some of it with you.