“He has a son now. He doesn’t want him reading this kind of stuff from his father.” This is how a GQ writer describes Tom Ford in a recent article; seemingly bashful but nevertheless confident in his litany of lascivious thoughts on sex and sexuality, especially pertaining to but not limited to the subject of male-on-male penetration.
Although it is 12 years since he first posited, at least in a global publication, that “Every man should be fucked at some point in his life,” time and age have not had any impact on his line of thinking. While his message remains the same, this time around the delivery appears to be more gentle. “It’s such a vulnerable position to be in, and it’s such a passive position to be in. And there’s such an invasion, in a way, that even if it’s consensual, it’s just very personal. And I think there’s a psyche that happens because of it that makes you understand and appreciate what women go through their whole life…”
Ford’s statement is simultaneously the epitome and antithesis of modern-day feminism. On one hand, he is recognizing and giving voice to the reality that in society, women and men do not hold equal positions (literally and figuratively). Women are still expected to be the caregivers, the gentler and more understanding sex, while men are provided the space to be aggressive, allowed to be void of empathy and feeling. On the other hand, with one sweeping generalization, Ford equates all the nuance and depth of the female experience with a sexual identity.
According to Ford’s line of thinking, women cultivate vulnerability as a result of penetration. Therefore, if we want a society of vulnerable men, it’s time they pull down their pants and bend over. I don’t entirely disagree with the idea that all men, straight, gay or otherwise, should experience some type of anal stimulation in their lifetime. In fact, many people have been petitioning for the expansion of sexual opportunities for men. Simply put, butt stuff feels good. And, as Eliel Cruz put it in a 2015 article, unsurprisingly published again in GQ, “Anal for straight men has always been a taboo. In part because of a false idea of emasculation and partly because of the 'ew' factor. Those insecurities, mostly rooted in internalized homophobia, have kept straight guys from getting in on butt play.” If Ford was purely appealing for a sex-positive sensibility, advocating for a broadening of the pleasure landscape, I would offer a cosign without batting an eye. However, his message is not so innocuous.
In simplifying the concept of vulnerability to penetration, or assuming that being penetrated is a fast track to being vulnerable, Ford is trivializing the entirety of the human experience. First and foremost, there are countless individuals who have been penetrated with a phallus or a finger who still lack the capacity to receive or demonstrate vulnerability. Given that we can assume Ann Coulter has been penetrated at least once in her lifetime, that theory is debunked right there. Subsequently, if this means we have to wait for all vacant, emotionally destructive, invulnerable men to consent to penetration, we will likely be waiting a very, very long time.
Ford’s statements also do very little to assuage the stereotype that, at their core, gay men are inextricably tied to a sexual identity. Isn’t it more likely that a heightened capacity for vulnerability is a direct result of a person knowing and persevering through struggle, as opposed to 25 minutes spent with their heels in the air (or on someone’s shoulders, depending on your preference)? While provocative comments make for spectacular headlines, they are predictably unhelpful when it comes to having a productive conversation about the ways in which society has failed to provide men the capacity to experience the range of human emotions restricted to femininity for far too long.
Tom Ford is unarguably a genius. He is nothing short of a brilliant designer, a visionary director, and a creative with a penchant for revolutionizing the fashion industry. However, a social psychologist he is not. If Ford is interested in the uprising of a society prepared to be fully and completely vulnerable, perhaps he can start by watching and reading some Brené Brown with his son. He might find himself slightly less bashful after that exchange, than he would if his son comes across an old copy of GQ in 10 years.
GARRETT SCHLICHTE lives and works in Washington, D.C. His work can be found on Medium, in The Washington Post, and most freely on Twitter @gschlichte.