Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Male virginity, a question?

Although people hesitate initially when asked how one can tell whether a woman is a virgin or not, they usually end up remembering the hymen with a relived smile. Yet the hymen is a more elusive membrane than is commonly assumed, and its status as a sure sign of virginity is in fact doubtful.

Anke Bernau, Virgins: A Cultural History, (London: Granta Books, 2007), p. 1.

Virginity, as problematic a construct of sexuality as any other, is often a topic discussed specifically and exclusively in relation to female bodies and whilst the visibility and physicality of virginity is doubtful within the female body, as explored by Anke Bernau in her amazing book Virgins: A Cultural History, it cannot be denied that the idea of male virginity is a more difficult and less tangible thing to identify.

Clayton Pettet

What's more, when coupled with homosexuality, virginity in any gendered body becomes evermore an elusive and slippery subject, a fluid and flimsy idea with little to stabilise it in the wake of scrutiny. Just what makes us a virgin in the first place? Is it a physical mark or form of our body, is it coupled with or actually exclusively belonging to our emotional and psychological being? Is it actually anything at all? 

A nineteen year old Central St. Martin's student, Clayton Pettet, is also intrigued by these questions and in exploration of (or for) virginity, plans to 'lose' his, for art, in front of a live audience of 150 people at the Orange Dot gallery in Bloomsbury, London, on 2nd April 2014.

In a piece entitled Art School Stole My Virginity, the teen will set about losing his virginity to/with another man, inviting the audience to contemplate the idea of virginity by witnessing its supposed irreversible loss, right before their eyes. Despite the obvious physicality of Pettet's piece, as a performance, the artist seemingly sits on the emotional side of the psychological versus physical argument on virginity; speaking to Attitude magazine, Pettet said: “virginity is subjective because it has no physical attributes. First experiences are real, and what you determine to be your first experience.” 



However, in deciding to explore and discuss the subject of virginity in this way, with a very physical performance of 'virginity being lost,' Pettet's piece may already be loaded. The conclusion of Pettet's discussion is predestined, he plans to, and supposedly will succeed in, loosing his virginity on stage. The 150 people will harbour their own conclusion as to whether their ticket was worth the expense, but when asked by a friend about their evening, will say that they watched a 19 year old boy loose his virginity to another man on stage. There is still room for discussion within this restricted conclusion, certainly, but nonetheless, there are certain truths that aren't up for discussion. Pettet is a virgin, but he won't be by the time the curtain falls. How or why that happens, we're welcome to ponder, but whether it did actually happen, maybe not.

If virginity is indeed lost and found and traded within an emotional sphere, because there are no physical signs of virginity as a state of being, the audience of 150 may actually just be witnessing nothing more than awkward sex (first-time or not), totally oblivious to the invisible and emotional exchanges happening within Pettet's head; "what you determine to be your first experience,” this, for Pettet, is a very personal introspective topic, something isolated to the artist's own personal perception of 'the first time'.

Can virginity be discussed through the mode of physical performance? Is this the only way we can discuss such a thing, a thing which has no physical manifestations? Can we only truly discuss virginity with ourselves, unable to articulate our own perception of what is and what is not new, who we are and who we have become because of X, Y, Z.

So many questions, but the first has to be, what was your first time?