Past research on masculinity and male sexuality displayed in advertisements has traditionally focused on characteristics embodied by an idealised heterosexual male, leading to claims of a hegemony of standards on male excellence oft-taken to be synonymous with Western conceptions and ideals. Less clear, however, is how this hegemony continues to influence and structure, if so, perceptions of desirability amongst gay men.
Adopting Goffman’s (1979) ground-breaking framework of gender semiotics in advertisements as a starting point, we explore how the presentation of male models in gay clubbing posters found in Asia reveals idealised, iconised and desired traits of gay masculinity and sexuality. Clubbing posters were selected as a choice medium, with their promise of (sexual) fantasy and gratification, for examining how male desirability is semiotically constructed to appeal to a majority of consumers.
Surveying over 100 posters advertising gay clubbing events from 2012 to 2017 in Singapore and Beijing, we analysed the most salient physical, behavioural and racial characteristics portrayed in the posters, based on an adapted framework of Goffman’s. While the influence of hegemonic masculinity in the markets of gay male desire is undeniable, traits conventionally dispreferred in masculine presentations are significantly evident in the data. The traits indexed by the male models are further observed to be variegated across the two cultures, suggesting a plurality of gay masculinities – distinct from heterosexual masculinity – constructed based on cultural-specific norms and ideals instead of any singular conception of such. Projections of desirability are, in turn, revealed to be informed, shaped and racialised along emerging ‘gay’ standards within a broad concept of hegemonic masculinity.
The present research provides a novel methodology with which to analyse visual discourses of desires across different sexual orientations, and the results suggest that the conventional wisdom associated with hegemonically masculine and feminine characteristics requires reinterpretation not only in non-heterosexual contexts, but also in culturally-relative terms.
Goffman, E. (1979). Gender advertisements (1st Harper colophon ed.). New York: Harper & Row.