Your Name:

Your Email:

Friend's Name:

Friend's Email:

Creative Commons License
Powered by Movable Type




Hammad Ahmed

By Hammad Ahmed
Hammad Ahmed is a young writer working in public radio and fiction. He has worked at WBUR in Boston and WYBC in New Haven, and as an undergraduate at Stanford worked at the LGBT community center. Hammad has contributed regularly to Subcontinental Drift, a South Asian open mic in Washington DC, and produces an audio and fiction blog, which you can find here.
This text will be replaced by the flash music player.

In the California culture that I’m familiar with, I am conscious of the power of the person who is the so-called “object of the gaze.” Roaming the hallways, it is I who feels like an object around Mr. Dorm Hunk, who regularly leaves his door open at all hours and is often typing or reading or lazily pawing at his bare torso. In my head, I’m thinking, “This guy doesn’t need any more ego boosting. The last thing I want is for him to run off to his jock buddies and brag that he’s got faggots ogling his body.” Whether Mr. Dorm Hunk would really run back to his friends and giddily share such gossip, I’m not sure. It might be that my burning good looks would radically threaten that shirtless male’s psyche, causing an identity crisis and making him feel powerless before my gaze. But that doesn’t that sound very convincing. I just don’t want to feed the fire that makes this person very obviously an avid exhibitionist.

Why can’t I just enjoy it? I should be able to look, to savor with my eyes the sight that excites me because I am a man and—after all—men like to watch, right? I am aware that men make up this enormous audience with an insatiable appetite for pornography and visual pleasures. Not only is porn primarily consumed by men, but it is also primarily made for men. Even Playgirl, whose readership should ostensibly be female, has a fifty-percent male readership according to Mark Graff, president of Trans Digital. There’s just a serious male bias when it comes to the voyeurism industry. And yet, I can’t just sit back and enjoy it for at least two reasons: 1) whose body is on display & when is always conflictual and 2) my eyes don’t have sex all by themselves


The intrusion of bodies

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Dorm Hunk was to send out pictures of himself to the dorm email list. I don’t know that I would enjoy looking at them terribly much, at least based on my history. In the past, when people have sent me pictures of the newest Dieux du Stade calendar or forwarded me a sexy picture of a man, I’ve been conflicted. I’m aroused. I’m jealous. I’m curious, but I’m distracted from whatever else I was doing. Suddenly, my gaze is arrested by images I’m not sure I ever had much desire to see.

That’s a part of sexuality that comes up too rarely in theory and in day-to-day talk. Even if I “desire” someone (as if complex feelings of sexuality can be summarized in the verb “desire”), I might not necessarily want to desire them. The Science of Sleep does a great job of setting up this tension. Stéphane, Gael Garcia-Bernal’s character, wants to love his artistic neighbor, but spends a good deal of the time being enamored with her best friend instead. He discovers that there can be a gap between his partner of choice and the person who has his attention at a particular moment. I can sympathize with that, as I’ve often wanted to love the people who don’t get any. Should I, then, indulge in all my wayward attractions, follow my gaze where it leads me the way that men are “supposed” to do?

I think not. Being that unreflective and lacking in self-doubt makes for very poor social harmony, at the least. Desire has a way of being borne from—and perpetuating—jealousy, inequality, and other social ills. But there’s this lingering suspicion in my mind that I’m somehow following a road to Puritanism. I grew up in a Muslim household, more or less, where we prayed on Friday, fasted during Ramadan, and even went to Islamic camp during one particularly surreal summer between sixth and seventh grade. I was totally into the sex-is-unclean mindset until I went the way of secular gay-dom around the end of high school. Some Qur’anic remnant, some residual scripture poorly interpreted might have stayed with me, however, and I find myself mistrusting my desires at times. I want to ignore or even cover up the attractive bodies of strangers, and in a way I find myself identifying with my cousins who wear the hijab (headscarf) for their own complex reasons.

But even beyond the remnants of religiosity, there’s this intrusiveness of the sexual object that still perplexes me. That is, the gaze can be forcibly drawn—away from this essay I’m writing, for example, and onto your desktop background of Brazilian supermodel Rafael Verga—in a way that’s unwelcome. For someone married to a jealous spouse, this can be an obvious problem. But even for single people, the imperative not to be drawn like a fly to light whenever a cute stranger walks by might exist if they have other goals than simply enjoying eye candy.

I’m not saying that closing one’s eyes or covering up attractive bodies is an ethical, or even an effective, strategy. Lord knows that the objects meant to conceal often acquire a spectral sexuality of their own—like lingerie or masks. What I’m arguing is that while veiling women might seem like objectifying them, the real objectification is not giving them a choice in the matter.  When society (read: men) insist that women dress modestly, I think they are trying to transcend their own particular feelings of objectification as well.

Maybe sometimes I’d rather Mr. Dorm Hunk threw on a sweatshirt instead of laying around half-naked all the time. I’m torn, however, because he is enticing, after all. But I don’t want to be enticed by him—not just because it’s distracting and intrusive. It also has something to do with the fact that Mr. Dorm Hunk is generally a white, muscular man. Skin color and race have become less of a factor of attraction for me, but I remember wondering some years back why I was so consistently attracted to white guys. I thought that, maybe if I just tried looking at the other brownish-beige folks all around, I’d discover that I like them, too. But this didn’t work when I was in the closet trying to like girls, and it only barely worked to spur my interest in non-white men... (continue reading)

Navigate:  << Previous Page |  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  | Next Page >>


theresa k. said:

Thank you for writing about my blog and for linking to it.

Posted at: June 13, 2008 1:09 AM

Michael Rogers said:

That was a very thought-provoking article and parts of it definitely rang true for me as a gay man taking feminist classes. Thank you.

Posted at: July 18, 2008 1:43 AM

Terell said:

excellent article that rings true for me in so many ways. thanks for writing it.

Posted at: December 8, 2008 2:14 AM

Eve said:

I've read about 70% of the essays here, and this is my favourite due to its academic & philosophical basis.

Posted at: December 10, 2008 12:13 PM

Bjarne Lind said:

Meaningful and precise reading about gaze and objectification is hard to find. Texts on gaze/objectification (=G/O) may be interesting but are often inspirational discourses without scientific foundation. Comforting warm air with good intention.

What we need is personal and societal development towards personal and mutual insight, accept, trust, sharing, UNDERSTANDING, knowledge, wisdom and compassion. (Yes, there is buddhist inspiration here.)

The fortune of UNDERSTANDING:

The simple truth "It's all in the mind" makes good foundation for a progressive awareness of a G/O process. We need have both the freedom and responsibility to remember that our impressions, perceptions, thoughts, (re)actions are ultimately our own choices.

Most will easily agree that (re)actions should better reflect informed choices rather than be rushed or instinctual. Few however trust that also impression, perception and thought are actually "chosen" options. If however you accept the fact that "society" somewhat conditions your impression, perception and thought, you're already halfway towards realizing that they ultimately rest on personal choices - however petrified the current pattern of impression, perception and thought appears to be - in a person or within a group.

Keep this in mind always and everywhere. Read this once again perhaps. All in the mind and all own choice.

Use this essence as guide to walking the fine line BETWEEN mindfully experiencing visual impression - AND - experiencing the thoughts and emotions appearing after. Perfection here includes seeing your rising desire. Then come thoughts and mental reflections. The sequences of your mind. You may feel insecurity? Fear of upsetting the object perhaps? Rejection? Stop for a moment!

Remember it's all in the mind. Our minds may stick looping endlessly in the warm air of mental imaginery - or just plain ignorance. Stupidity actually. Invalidated by habit and influenced by others without clear insight we need to look at the root. Our choice.

Choose between seeing and labeling. Between experience and expression. Between sharing and demanding. Between feeling and craving. Between loving and being loved.

Mr. Dorm Hunk is your label. It's your eyes that facilitate your visual impression. Your mind experiences your pleasure, desire, insecurity, fear and so on. Please cleverly separate and understand these ingredients and assume full responsibility for applying your awareness.

The visual impression may induce pleasure. You may stop and just enjoy. Or you may not feel satisfied. You want more. A second glance. You are aware of your desire. You chose to look again. It's fear that keeps you from doing this openly. Your fear. Or perhaps consideration for the object. You imagine Mr. Hunk Dorm may suffer if noticing your signs of joy. Or become upset. All in your mind. Your informed choice remains: decide what you want and possibly act.

In this life we are endowed with senses. Some even with a bit of wisdom. Very important knowledge about good and bad. How to avoid causing suffering. How to promote peace and happiness. Few acquire peace and happiness once and for all. Most however want to contribute. Thats compassion.

Our divine human potentials are best served through recognition, trust and respect. Not through blockages, stiff conventions or by veils. Recognize, trust and respect an attraction. Feel the feeling. Let it be. Rest there. Take time. Grasping for rewards or a reaction from Mr. Hunk Dorm is compassionately better avoided. Actively offering him your loving admiration is preferable. You need to train in expanding trust and confidence. Trust that both you and Mr Dorm Hunk have wish, capacity, and responsibility to mindfully cooperate in the respectful sharing of experiences.

Trust that ultimately it's all about love. Your divine potential. His too.

Contribute with your expressions of love and appreciation - avoiding attachment or grasping for more.

Will there be disappointments? Yes.

Because you have attachment to pleasure. Not to insecurity, fear, rejection and suffering.

Something meaningful will fall into your basket. Maybe Mr. Dorm Hunk will get his experience of joy too.

Posted at: January 12, 2010 10:28 AM

Brandon said:

While there is diversity within the GLBT community, there is also camraderie based on the similarities. I do find that there is a gaze, a technique of staring, which many gay men, at least, use to identify each other. For me, it is an almost primal signifier of somebody of the same "tribe", as it were. A sort of shibboleth.

Posted at: February 27, 2010 9:37 AM

Anonymous said:

excellent. Not only intellectually stimulating but also a very thoughtful and generous piece. Rings true for so many, myself included.

Posted at: March 22, 2010 6:42 PM