Pube grooming in the LGBT community
By Caitlin Dewey
To this day, Daniel Smith* can’t decide which was worse: the excruciating pain of burning off all his body hair, or the humiliation of going to school the next day.
Smith, then a senior in high school, had always felt some pressure to reign in his near-rabid hair. It wasn’t a problem on his legs or arms, necessarily, but when guys started commenting on the outbreak down south, Smith began to wonder what he would look like hairless.
He drove to Target in the cold of a New Jersey January and bought a bottle of Nair. He coated his entire body – “between my ass cheeks and all” – with a thick layer of blue gel, ignoring the acrid stench and sharp burning sensation.
The ensuing allergic reaction left Smith’s skin raw, his pride somewhat battered, and his attitudes toward pubic hair irrevocably changed.
“Yeah, I’ve definitely had guys pull pubes out of their mouths after giving head, or guys who say like, ‘damn, you’re hairy,’” Smith said. “But I’m never – never – doing that again.”
The growth and grooming of pubic hair, a topic of enormous consternation in the heterosexual community, is complicated in homosexual culture as well. Like their heterosexual counterparts, gay and lesbian students face a number of pube pressures. But where the pressures in heterosexual culture are fairly straightforward – shave it for girls, groom it for guys – the pressures of the gay community are complicated and often contradictory.
For gay men, pube-grooming standards differ between the “twink” subculture (think Carson Kressley from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) and the “bear” subculture (a more traditionally masculine aesthetic).
Bears would find a hairless penis appalling. A Google search for bear porn turns up over two million hits for sites like Gaybearmovies.com, which promises “no skinny twinks, just real macho and hairy MEN.”
On the other hand, twinks are expected to wax and shave like it’s their religion. “There’s a lot of pressure to be young or to stay young,” Eric Park*, a sophomore psychology major, said of the twink culture. “Girl, all you see is creepy Park Avenue men scoping out our young, innocent, hairless Asian bodies.”
As a whole, the norm for the gay community is a metrosexual look, explained Christoper Woodside, a senior graphic design major, and his boyfriend Peter Boskey, a freshman fashion design major. There is “a universal pressure to be well-groomed,” they said. Subcultures only appear in certain places.
The lesbian community appears to follow a similar set-up. Pressured by two highly visible extremes, most women tend to fall in the middle.
At one time there was a predominant “old-school lesbian aesthetic,” said Dr. Robin Riley, a professor of Gender and Women’s Studies. The look originated as part of second wave feminism. It rejected any type of pruning or plucking and urged women to accept their bodies.
In recent years, however, lesbian women have begun to confront the same types of commercial pressures that straight women and gay men have traditionally faced.
“We’re being told we have to purchase a certain cosmetic or shampoo or pair of shoes in order to be a ‘proper woman,’” Riley said. “Suddenly these [commercial] ideas about how women should look are taken up and imposed as the norm.”
To some extent, the status quo for college-age, heterosexual females – no pubic hair, or at least well-groomed pubic hair – is imposed on college-age lesbian women too. Carmen Carbonell, a sophomore piano performance major, said she expects to see “the bushes pruned.”
“There’s not as much pressure on us as on straight girls, though,” Carbonell said. “Girls consider it attractive, but they understand that it’s a personal decision more than a guy would.”
The question remains, however, why standards for extreme subcultures like twinks, bears and old-school lesbians seem to dominate a culture where most people fall somewhere in between.
“It has to do with being broken down into categories,” Riley said. “Having a relationship with someone of the same sex became taboo at some point in history. Once that taboo was imposed, it became the norm, and in order to reinforce a norm, you have to construct the other as being ‘less than.’ You have to reduce someone to a sexual act – to a body part or a state of hairlessness.”
This charged historical construction of the gay identity may explain why topics like pubic hair remain so controversial. Two representatives from the LGBT Resource Center refused to comment on the topic.
“The reading of gay bodies as a form of text has historically been a bad thing,” said Mitchell Kuga, a senior magazine journalism major and editor-in-chief of Out Crowd magazine. “Often it involved looking for abnormalities. It’s part of the history of being persecuted.”
*name has been changed