When examining the “joke” of Femboy Hooters, one must first realize that it is really not much of a joke at all. If there is a joke, it’s that the very idea — a restaurant chain staffed by boys ostensibly only recognizable as such for their flat chests and pants-bulges — can only ever be an idea. Desire remains at the core of it, a desire perhaps all the more smitten because what it chases is imaginal. What is the character of the desire, though? We are not all that far from the response to Amy Brown’s handling of Wendy’s Twitter account, transparently a performance in service of anthropomorphizing a corporation and, by extension, those she play-battled with. What followed was an audience’s delight with the sassy persona, and the production of a not-insignificant amount of smut involving the Wendy character.
One could see this as another example of men collectively pornographying something or someone as if it were a corruptive game where the goal is to see how far the limits can be tested. This is an old game, and it intersects with the phenomenon of penis graffiti. But much more significant than that is how sexual compulsions here ultimately play into the role corporations want to have, which is as the providers of all necessities and the legitimizers of whatever counts as individualization. In the dynamic illustrated below, the corporation essentially acts as the parent who, with a sort of “What’re ya gonna do” smirk on their face, sanctions the child’s desires; and the child rejoices in their being recognized and loved.
There are two qualitative attributions, to some extent explicit and implicit, to Femboy Hooters that I want to look at and which interest me most. The first is that Femboy Hooters, in flipping the gender of the targets of lust, supposedly constitutes a sort of kinky, LGBTQ-friendly subversion. The second is that, since young men are the ones most visibly responding to and producing the material, Femboy Hooters supposedly is a symbol of male homosexuality.
Where the former is concerned, the whole thing has been poisoned to the core already on account of the blatant consumerist pathologies. More than that, though, it participates in the prevalent, simplistic notion that the problematics of a cultural item have to do with its actors (specifically, the alignment of their identistic traits), and not so much the structure within which those actors participate, or those participatory behaviors. For example: it is now seen as proper, if a man writes a song dripping with lascivious descriptions of a woman, to respond with revulsion; but if a woman says the same things about herself, and broadcasts this to millions, one must conclude (in order to not be called sexist and/or racist) that it is empowering. The strange thing is that people want to morally decry objectification and yet also applaud it when the objectification is self-directed — as if the central problem of the expressions of capitalism were agency.¹
So it is with Femboy Hooters, even as it remains a fantasy, whose actors are boys, rather than women, in skimpy clothing. “It’s gay! Hooters is bad because it’s straight! Now let’s say nothing about bodies as commodity within industrialized society.” This is one of the ways by which the consumerist-capitalist-industrial paradigm can sustain itself: by getting us to self-delude and think that the real problem with, say, the Walt Disney company is a lack of LGBTQ representation. The ability to make this distinction is crucial at a time when, as I wrote elsewhere, corporations “have grown so enormous, influential, and untouchable that they have acquired a super-parental or deific status. People will eagerly describe themselves foremost as a ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe fan’, and cheer when the movie of the corporation they’ve allied with makes however many hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars more than the other, as if one behemoth’s victory of profit is a victory for the individual.”
Where the latter is concerned, I am extending my comparative frame of reference back to ancient Greece (then ancient Rome, then countries participating in European Renaissance culture, a response to both Greece and Rome), because I see Femboy Hooters as in truth a further perversion of the male ephebic fantasies and liaisons of antiquity, since it joins the current phenomenon of the digital devouring our libido. Ancient man-on-boy imaginings and interactions were the worshipful eroticizing of that androgynous in-between point of male development lost after the advent of adulthood. Here, sexual activity and imagination were/are not equivalent to what we might now term sexual identity, bisexuality included. It was also patently and triumphantly misogynistic, for it presented the adolescent boy as a more ideal partner to the adult male than woman, whose body and psychology were (and still are) feared as a revoltingly perplexing chthonic maze, and susceptible to that womb-madness, hysteria. Obviously, this partnership was decidedly temporal. “The beautiful boy”, Camille Paglia writes, “represents a hopeless attempt to separate imagination from death and decay.”
Similarly, in the femboy as an ideal, we find an exercising of that “divine human privilege to make ideas greater than nature.” The boy has been groomed, with no hair visible on any part of his body except for his head. His chest is an ambiguous zone straddling the line of lithe teenage male and fit tomboy. In art, the shapeliness of his hips have been exaggerated; his buttocks and thighs have been plumped. Indeed, looking at the lower body, were it not for the genitalia, one could fairly assume that he is a young cisgender woman. Let us also remember that it is fem-boy rather than fem-man — the illusion of an eternal nubile youth is crucial — and also that more often than not we find the femboy of today who prostitutes himself online beckoning the gaze of a “daddy.”
It is understandable that details which involve a symbolic nearness to ephebophilia and incest, and which have misogynistic implications, might be met with discomfort. This is not about judgment, though; it is about encouraging a clarity of vision. I would note that I was once enchanted by the femboy figure, and only escaped from the spell by recognizing its acute conditionality, in some way a parallel to the misogyny of seeing femininity as valuable only inasmuch as it remains youthfully pretty. I came to understand that this was not sexuality but fantasy-dependent lust.
So one of the main points I want to make here is that the femboy phenomenon, involved or uninvolved with corporate institutions, is fairly inexplicable if we cannot see it as a kind of response to what is variously understood as biological womanhood. Divorced from this, we reduce it to the pop-progressive treatment of sexuality wherein the less apparently heterosexual the conduct, the less appropriate inspection. As the digital realm heightens its partial resemblance to the devouring mother who accommodates while she smothers — the space we return to in order to have our needs of comfort and sexual release met (very much akin to that aforementioned role corporations wish to have) — , I think we will see a heightening of phenomena which are female-exclusionary, even when women are bodily present.²
¹ Objectification, as a mental activity, is how we may discriminate and focus on erogenous and/or erotic zones. It’s not all that there is to sexuality, and it may lie more on the masculine end of the spectrum, but it’s a part of it, and I have no contention with that. I do have contention with the idea that the more barriers we eradicate between our public and private lives; the more we broadcast our sexuality as a transactional service; the more we offer ourselves as fundamentally an object to be consumed, the more individuated and empowered we are, and that this actualization is augmented if identistic markers can be aligned with vague neoliberal sentiments over “queerness”, “feminism”, or “anti-white supremacy.”
² One example is the e-girl, who has self-evacuated in order to feed off of the attention given by the equally disaffected man. Another is the enormous boost in drawn pornography wherein the woman’s, or female character’s, anus supersedes the vagina as the groin’s focal erotic point.