The Queer Issue
Adolescent male beauty is not masculine, nor is it feminine--it floats in the limbo between childhood and adulthood. While adolescent boys' behavior seems to be a construction of defense mechanisms to cloak those helplessly out-of-control feelings that torment all teenage boys, these barricades are still relatively straightforward in light of the complications of manhood. The hatred and hypersocial retardation that plague adult males are still just enduring foibles in teenage boys. The juxtaposition of this aggressive anguish with newly powerful yet awkward bodies quivers, a cocktail of unstable elements. Adolescent beauty vibrates in that space like a bell.
No one can deny the rush and thrill of power toting one of these boys around. Claire Denis, a French filmmaker, knows how to watch and appreciate a boy without making you hate yourself for doing it; her long shots glorifying Grégoire Colin's adolescent trembling (before he got muscles) in Nénette et Boni filled theatergoers with exquisite longing for the frustrated, aggressive young pizza-slinger. I found myself repeatedly fantasizing about rescuing him from beating off into pizza dough. Gus Van Sant casts Joaquin Phoenix's shuddering belly as high filmic art in To Die For.
Both of these masturbatoriffic scenes configure the viewer's lascivious desire within the context of "hot for teacher." Somehow, Mrs. Robinson types are tolerated as zesty old ladies or understanding, compassionate, mature women, while gay men who lust after teenage boys are made to feel like pedophiles for openly objectifying adolescents. Both men and women are capable of victimizing young boys. So what accounts for this difference? I suspect it's tools we use. As animals and as a society, we're hung up on penetration and the almighty dick. Apparently, straight women do not pose a threat with their nurturing vaginas and receptive, soft breasts.
Masculinity is under siege in an older man/younger man relationship, and it is all about penetration. The older gay man who lusts after adolescent boys is made to suffer because he's perceived as having penetrated the younger man, and that's not okay. Why? People believe the act of penetration has the power to "turn" the younger man gay. (I would venture that if Mary Kay Letourneau had been a man, folks would have been screaming for her blood, instead of gently suggesting that she was not well.)
I get giggles and knowing rolls of the eyes from my friends when I tell them I like boys. When gay men acknowledge they like teenage boys, friends hustle their toddlers indoors. Musing over the possibilities of revisiting teenage sex, my gay male friends (we share a common vision for Keanu Reeves) and I bemoan society's inability to allow the objects of our desire some measure of free will. Some boys want to sleep with older men and women. We can't deny the influence of power, but all of us should remember being teenagers ourselves, and the titillation of being admired by an older person. Some were nice, like certain camp counselors and co-workers, while others--self-loathing, lying, rapist youth pastors and the like--were monsters.
But others were sought after and flirted with, coaxed for beer and passage into the strange land of adulthood.
Astrid Jackson is a heterosexual woman who lives on Capitol Hill.