Look, mom, I made it!
the war for digital power
online sexuality, insta-morals & naked men
Vibrant·e·s is a French podcast about sexuality.
I met Laura and Carole while working on parallels projects. Even though the podcast is mostly directed towards straight women, I figured it could be interesting to broaden their views to other considerations.
That’s how I had the pleasure to sit behind the mic to talk about online sexuality.
The podcast was recorded in French, so here’s the translated transcript.
There’s a lot happening on social media. A lot to be said, a lot to be shared. Sexuality is no exception. We’ve all seen images, met people, scrolled on accounts addressing the subject.
Unfortunately, we could even say that the clitoris was born on Instagram.
We are joined by Leo Tremaine, a queer illustrator, to talk about that strong bond between digital and sexuality.
Leo, what do you do, who are you, how would you define yourself?
What a complex question…
Firstly, I identify as a human. A queer human.
Why queer? Because I’ve always felt different, as a human and as a cis gay man, different from the norm, but also from parts the LBGTQIA+ community.
That’s what being queer is about. For those who might not know what queer encompasses, queer literally means “strange”, “unconventional” or “singular”. It used to be an insult used against LBGTQIA+ people, that we have now reclaimed and it basically became a banner for the whole community. It’s also used inside the community to describe those of us who do not fit into “the norm”, those who decide to deconstruct themselves and the standards of a world that became suffocating. More than a style, it has become somewhat of a lifestyle. The lifestyle of those who act to make the world a safer place for anyone who feels different.
In life, I think our first identifier is gender – because that’s how society works today – then of skin color and cultural background factors in, and thirdly sexuality. As LGBTQIA+ people, sexuality has to become an identifier, because you have to come out, you have that injunction to verbally separate yourself from “the norm”. It shouldn’t be – cause who gives a damn about what you are doing in bed – but it is.
But by being part of a minority, the said minority becomes an identifier.
In bed? Or in pleasure?
It can happen anywhere!
Not in Castorama, but anywhere.
(Castorama is a French equivalent of Home Depot, I was referencing a French politician who was caught masturbating there)
You present yourself as a queer artist, how is your queerness translated into your work?
I’ve been doing illustrations on Instagram since 2017. Mainly portraits. With those, I try to shine a light on other queer personalities that try to change the world through the prism of who they are.
I also draw a lot of undressed beautiful men, because it’s always a nice thing to look at.
I mainly try to support or give a platform to those who have one or don’t, and to help their actions radiate.
To me that’s what community is: a global voice.
It is the first time that we are joined by someone who comes to talk about something else than the heterocentric norm.
Leo, what is sexuality to you?
As I said, sexuality is an identifier, but it’s also so much more than that.
It is also a community, a place of encounters, of collusion, it’s intimate pleasure, that you can share or not, alone or accompanied, it’s moments of life that connect to create a coherent whole that is very fun to live.
Sexuality is fun, sexuality is beautiful.
Carole, as a sexologist, what is your definition of sexuality?
It’s a life force, it’s pleasure, it’s an inherent part of our lives.
We all need to find affiliations, to try to fit in a box. We shouldn’t, everyone is free to live their sexuality, searching for their own pleasure. We all have a relationship with ourselves and relationships with others. We all search for connection, for shared moments, to find pleasure without the need to define it.
Leo, what do your illustrations say about sexuality?
My illustrations are merely an extension of who I am, what I love, what I love to see, what makes me vibrate.
So of course there are men – dressed or not, strong female characters.
Like a lot of queer people, I am unexplainably pulled towards pop culture’s strong female figures.
Drag queens also, because they are gorgeous creatures, political creatures and some of the current pillars of our community.
Sexuality has become such a huge taboo. While a lot of things are opening up. But sexuality is still something that makes people uncomfortable.
When it’s one of the things that give us the most pleasure in life.
It’s such a huge part of life and our relation to others, I struggle to see why we should deny that part of us to others.
Carole, does art impact our sexuality?
First and foremost, art brings fantasies, but it also allows us to regain a positive appreciation of ourselves.
To explore something new, to shine a new light on ourselves.
As Carole said, Instagram can be very positive on a personal level, seeing people owning their body.
But on the flip side, fuller bodies get censored way more.
Yes, there is no denying that we are living in a ratified body dictature.
That’s why it has been so wonderful seeing singers like Lizzo, or Yseult in France, reclaim their body, their sensuality, their sexuality. They may not be the approved shade of bottle tan, the approved jean size, they may not fit the tiny mold society provides, they do not care. They love themselves, and if you don’t like it, keep scrolling. It’s beautiful.
That’s one of the many powers of social media, showing that beauty is diverse.
Instagram is implementing a very harsh censorship, silencing the voices they deem too loud, too opinionated. All that, based on a biased value system.
I see accounts disappear, accounts that do not show up in the search tab unless you type in the exact full name.
There is a constant battle against what patriarchy has been dictating, against the whole “let’s protect our children against sexual content”.
Honey, your ten years old has nothing to do on Instagram.
I think the legal age to access social media is 13. Obviously, you have a smartphone, so create a WhatsApp group with your bffs.
You have a new Hello Kitty sweater? Cool story love.
The internet is not made for children.
Or it has to be done smartly.
Remember Tumblr, before the Yahoo acquisition thing. There was a ton of sexual content on Tumblr. But you were able to add a warning stating that the page contained content that might not be fit for minors. Then, everybody is free to work their way around them, we’ve all done it, but the responsibility shifts.
On Instagram, you’ll find such filters on pictures depicting war scenes, but as soon as you reach something more intimate, then it is forbidden.
It’s sad, because there’s also a lot of informative content on social media.
Very true, but it also pushes people to go too fast in their sexuality…
I think what we lack is positive support.
It goes beyond just sexuality, it’s true for any kind of discrimination, it all comes down to education.
I find that those who treat others poorly are often the ones who weren’t taught that difference is normal. People who grew up in closed circles, surrounded with people just like them.
Taboos are born from misinformation.
More than just information, social media has shed a light on sexuality’s diversity.
Why did it happen online? Would it have happened without it?
Without social media, there would be no BLM, there would be no #Metoo – or at least they wouldn’t have been such global movements.
The digital world is the perfect place to be heard, and that in itself is a double edge sword.
On one hand, wonderful things happen, communities are born.
On the other, hate is everywhere and a lot of people try to bring down those who don’t seem normal to them – and please define “normal” because I don’t believe such a thing exists when it comes to people.
For example, Tumblr has played a huge role in the development of gay sexuality and its expressions.
It allowed us to create pages that were both beautiful and plentiful. It was the perfect place to express every part of who you are. You would put all of your fantasies, every side of you and created your own community around that.
Then it became a “family friendly” environment.
That might be the issue, we don’t allow people the possibility to do what you just described…
We used to have cruising spots – places where people met – back when homosexuality was illegal. When it got decriminalized, bars kind of took over and things followed online naturally.
Of course, people decided to own their sexuality and intimacy online, because it’s still taboo to see two persons of the same gender hold hands in the street.
I feel like that most of us had to develop our sexualities in secret. So we’ve had to explore more, question who we are, what we like, which pushes us to be more at ease with it.
Maybe that’s why LGBTQIA+ people talk and play more freely when it comes to intimacy.
How do you fight censorship?
That’s the million dollar question…
Instagram has instigated a behavioral dictature. Once you’ve agreed to their policies, you are done for.
More and more accounts are getting deactivated, without any reason or explanation.
I think of drag friends, who’s accounts have been deleted, when they had never posted anything remotely scandalous.
I think of Lusted Men, same story. An artistic account deleted for showing a butt… There are no real tools available to fight this.
But we still create new accounts, because it is the only way to be visible, and for some of us to work.
My biggest hope is that artists and developers will come together to create a new app, a new safe space for anyone who feels crushed by the imposed insta-morals.
A place without old white men in an office deciding what we can or cannot share. Anyway who decided what’s okay or not? Why is sexuality such a pet peeve for them?
Because it is so intimate…
Because they do not become richer from it.
Instagram has become the biggest mall on Earth.
And once again, this censorship is heading the wrong direction. The only sexuality is up for grab is the one that ignores minorities.
Censorship is heteronormative.
A naked woman – if there is no nipples showing, because that’s where they decided to draw the line – has less chances to get struck than masculine sexuality.
Because men don’t give a boner to those who run the show.
They are just so afraid to lose their power to someone who doesn’t look like them… we’ve entered a war for digital power, when all we wanted was to have a good time.