Stoya by Steven Klein

Over the Christmas break I’ve been exploring ideas surrounding gender, investigating what are perceived and understood as ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ bodies and gender identities. Biological sex has been assumed to be the basic category, which influences one’s own self-identification as well as others to one side or the side of the gender binary. As soon as the question, “Is it a boy or a girl?” is answered, it’s assumed and seen as ‘natural’ that the individuals’ gender will align with their biological sex thereafter naturally.  However, social conditioning, platonic ideals of gender ‘norms’, stereotyping and rigid socially/culturally accepted frameworks also come into play. We are taught and learn that males and females are meant to act, behave and look distinctive from each other and that sex gender and sexuality all link naturally. A male will be masculine and have heterosexual desire towards his opposing sex. This is the ‘norm’. However, we all know it’s never that simple. I’m interested in those bodies/individuals whereby sex, gender and sexuality conflict. Are they less ‘natural’ or ‘abnormal’?

Stoya is an American female porn star, dancer and writer. Now I ask, what images enter your mind? A sun tanned hairless body? Large breasts? Blonde hair? A vagina? A bimbo? The words I’ve used to describe Stoya will inevitably force you to use your pre-existing knowledge on all the words used, ‘female’ for example as well as what has been fed to you through media, culture and society. This decision-making process allows you to categorize and understand this person. However, you also run the risk of generalization and stereotyping, as my questions suggest. When I think porn star I think blonde, curvaceous, glamorous, and filthy and well maybe perhaps dim. Stoya, however, despite my description of her, spins all these pre-conceived perceptions on their head!

In an editorial for Richardson Magazine (A5) fashion photographer Steven Klein shot an androgynous Stoya. The photographs focus on the male gaze. Klein being homosexual transformed Stoya into something he would find attractive, thus challenging whether a female really can be masculine and male. As a result, Stoya is re-imagined as a male. Her muscles, particularly in her upper body, are highlighted and accentuated with oil as well as having hairy genitals and armpits. Whilst playing up to the stereotype of what is masculine, Klein also forces us to re-think the link between gender and sex. Whilst Stoya still remains female her gender appears masculine and more fitting to a ‘normal’ male identity. Thought provoking.



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