Like any liberal arts-educated freelance writer and activist from San Francisco who values his progressive culture and identity, I’m a very strong supporter of Salon.com. The site has always featured some of the most thought-provoking and necessary advocacy journalism anywhere and continues to even after the lamentable loss of the esteemed Glenn Greenwald last year. In addition to the important anti-establishment work of Falguni Sheth, Natasha Lennard and the excellent David Sirota, Salon has also given a home to wholly praise-worthy articles by John Hochshartner and Eliot Glenn. But while the website continues to function as the internet home of work that highlights injustices about which we should all be outraged, the sexual politics of its current headline post, “Salon’s Sexiest Men of 2013,” are, I’m sorry to say, deeply problematic.
At first glance, the reason for the post seems obvious: to counteract People magazine’s own “Sexiest Man Alive” issue, which this year bestows its ultimate honor upon the tragically circumcised-against-his-will Adam Levine. Salon should be applauded for including men of color and whose names are nearly impossible to pronounce on their own list, seeing as how each is vastly underrepresented on the ubiquitous “sexiest” lists this time of year, particularly the millions of “vowel challenged” around the world. It’s courageous for Salon to highlight men whom columnist Tracy Clark-Flory would have a difficult time texting for a quick, feminist empowering hook-up. The problem, however, is not what’s included on the list but what is left off of it. Unfortunately, even at the vaunted likes of Salon there exists male privilege and queer erasure.
Why, for example, couldn’t the Salon staff have chosen a trans individual for its list, perhaps going so far as to add an asterisk to the headline, as in “Salon’s Sexiest *Men of 2013.” Wouldn’t this have been the truly progressive choice? Just think how much good the website could do if it had chosen Chaz Bono or maybe a pre-transitioning Chelsea Manning — a person who proves that immense bravery can be sexy — rather than taking the tired and paleoconservative binary view of sexuality that continues to bedevil our culture? That paradigm is a thing of the past and is indeed best confined to the slag heap of history. Salon may as well have called its list the Cisexiest Men, as each man on it, as far as we know, represents heteronormalcy at its most regrettable. It is unfortunate enough that Salon is willing to perpetuate the “Great Man” narrative, but it was given an opportunity to at least upend convention and it failed miserably.
To that end, it could have turned the “Sexiest Men” list into the “Sexist Men of 2013,” perhaps even getting Jezebel’s Lindy West and Tiger Beatdown’s Sadie Doyle to guest curate, overseen by Salon’s own Irin Carmon (who couldn’t possibly have had signed-off on the current column). Among the obvious choices for such a list would be Rush Limbaugh, Patton Oswalt, Sean Tejaratchi and The Daily Banter‘s loathsome Chez Pazienza.
These are just a few suggestions aimed at helping Salon.com to truly live up to the reputation it has so richly cultivated over the past few years. I will of course continue to read Salon and enjoy most of its output, but I do this with the knowledge that it can always do better. We can all do better. And we must, because the world we should be determined to force on everyone, whether they want it or not, demands it.