Black Queer Photographer Ajamu Explores Male Genitalia And Masculinity in New Doc 'Me & My Penis'
Are our British friends across the pond more sexually progressive than we are in America? If the arrival of Me And My Penis, the latest documentary from self-described radical Black queer photographer and sex activist Ajamu is any indication, the answer is most likely up for debate.
In Me And My Penis, Ajamu utilizes the male sexual organ as a conversation starter around sexuality, masculinity, and the power men attach to their penis. In the penis chat, we hear from a man in his 40s called Jason who breaks down sobbing while confronting his infertility. There’s a moving account from a trans man who details the fear he had of female puberty, knowing his body would soon grow breasts he didn’t want. And one former soldier opens up about losing his legs and sustaining a severe genital injury doing bomb disposal work in Afghanistan, reports The Guardian.
“It’s rare in the mainstream to hear men talk about their bodies and what it means to be male,” said Ajamu. “It’s also rare to see penises on TV. We are uncomfortable in this country talking about pleasure of the body. We still live in an erotophobic culture. Other cultures, in Asia and parts of Africa, have celebrated the penis historically, but there’s something about this country that is still kind of backwards.”
Born in 1960s Huddersfield to Jamaican parents, Ajamu was set for a career in the army before he was seized by a rather different calling: life as a radical black queer artist. “My practice includes photographing men, black men, and dicks,” is how he puts it.
His 1994 exhibition Black Bodyscapes focused on the black male body and fetish: lace and leather helping explore the private sexual realities of black gay men. Back then, his image Cock and Glove sparked a censorship row. “If the penis was at more than 45 degrees,” he explains, “it was considered to be pornographic. So when it was shown in London, the vice squad turned up.” Recently he was able to show that image without controversy as part of the Hayward Gallery’s Kiss My Genders exhibition.
Ajamu tells a funny story about the time he came out to his parents: building it up in his head for months, certain that they, as a black family, would react negatively. “And they weren’t like that at all,” he smiles. “I was disappointed! I blame my family for my queerness because they’ve supported what I’ve done from day one. Even the dick pictures. They come to the exhibitions, they see the work. They’re the reason why I could be so queer.”
Susanne Curran, Executive Producer, says finding men willing to strip off in front of the camera was surprisingly easy – although they took their time to select a diverse group with fascinating stories. She thinks the show’s existence signifies how much the conversation has moved forward. “Even as recently as 2015,” she says, “this portrait of masculinity and the fluidity it presents wouldn’t have been possible. The men – non-binary men, trans men, everyone from policemen to performance artists – wouldn’t have been there.”
Her deep-dive research has paid off. The aforementioned trans man talks about how hormone treatment saved him, transforming his clitoris into what is “effectively a micropenis” with 50 times more nerves and sensitivity than a normal penis. “You can still orgasm, it sexually feels nice, but for me being a man is not necessarily about that area. Nobody sees that. When I walk down the road and go into the shop and buy a can of Coke, that’s the one area that doesn’t matter.”
Me And My Penis premieres in the UK on Channel 4 on August 31. You can watch the trailer here.