Learning to be your true self as a gay man is a lifelong project
Photographer Charles Moriarty on X, intimacy and honesty through a visual medium
Self-portrait. All photographs: Charles Moriarty
I knew I was attracted to men from around the age of five or six. There’s a moment, a foggy memory with a policeman and a hairy chest. I hadn’t even seen a Tom of Finland book, but it made sense many years later in the book section at the back of Tower Records.
I knew that attraction was a problem by the age of 10. In the words of the Queen of Ireland herself, Panti Bliss, I learned to constantly “check myself” from a young age. To make sure I wasn’t doing anything that would make me stand out, to make sure I was as invisible as possible. As a teenager, I retreated to spaces I could control, but eventually got better and better at the lie; every day was an act. I got so good even I began to believe it, for a moment at least, enough to ignore it.
When I was 27, and finishing my photography degree, I unknowingly began the journey seen in this book. X is a raft of memory, specifically related to my many interactions with men, but the series doesn’t focus on any particular group. It’s more biographical than anything else and takes place over a 12-year period. It’s a well-edited diary. There’s a symbiosis between my art and my life.
When lockdown started in London, almost a year ago, I was alone like many others, and after the initial month of living excessively, Zoom family quizzes, and finger-dancing hard to BBC Radio 6, I ran into notions of creativity. The stay-at-home order wasn’t going away, and the relationship with my six black (wild) cats wasn’t improving. I had for many months been toying with concepts for a new book, but finally now lacked distraction.
One day, things clicked. I knew how to begin.
There’s an outstretched hand at the start of the book. It implies openness, and an invitation into my space, my world, to join me on my journey and make it your own. Right up until the eleventh hour this remained the starting point, but as I completed the edit I made a final change and placed a self-portrait at the beginning. That welcoming hand is in some ways for me too.
X is personally confrontational; it forces me to be honest. Learning to be your true self as a gay man is a lifelong project. I am constantly peeling back ideas of myself, unsure whether they are truth or construct.
Sixty-six subjects in the book are part of a narrative that weaves together brief encounters with lifelong relationships, loves and friendships at times broken by landscapes to give pause but also to reflect emotional states.
A carnival ride from a county fair in upstate New York called Trapeze perfectly captures my own feelings while taking photographs, excitement and fear hurled together. Author Gary Needham, who wrote an essay for the book, perhaps describes X best.
“Moriarty acknowledges the enduring power of photography to index histories and desires through acts of artistic disclosure.”
This body of work attaches itself to queer tropes such as Narcissus, which leads us to concepts of identity. Instances of drag push us to acknowledge a sense of duality within all of us. But intimacy is at the core of the book; each present has given me a small part of themselves. They also stand as my mirror. Back and forth, we reflect upon one another, and with a single click like a thief, I try to steal the moment.
For real intimacy, there must be honesty, and now that I’m no longer trying to hide, I can most importantly be honest with myself and with people who care to wonder. X is a vocalisation of the self through a visual medium, sharing the journey I am on with you.
The book is dedicated to my incredible friend and recently posthumously published Irish author Fiona Cribben, still giving me the push I need from wherever she is. Gra mor chailin.
X by Charles Moriarty is available here