jonathan torres poses
OUTober, Special Projects

CSULB graduate student explores sexuality through erotic art

In Jonathan Torres’ illustration graduate studio, a satin cloth covered in monarch butterflies drapes his wall. 

The graceful image stands in stark contrast to the imagery on opposing walls, which are plastered with pornographic drawings of men.

Torres is an artist and a gay man. His illustrations, while explicit and jarring for some, are his way of exploring gay sexual identity. 

Growing up, Torres did not have a role model to base his sexuality. 

“My parents used to own a video store, and they had a porno section there…I guess that’s where I got curious about pornography, specifically gay pornography,” Torres said. 

He eventually got more curious. He began experimenting by sketching penises.

“I was ashamed of it because I didn’t want my mom or my dad to find out,” Torres said. “I think I knew I liked men deep inside, but I didn’t quite understand how the world worked in a way and I was scared.” 

Torres’ fear stemmed from seeing how coming out in high school had negatively affected other friends of his. 

“[In college] I started going on dates,” Torres said. “Online dating and that helped contribute to the art now. I finally got to a point where I was able to come out to my mom and let her know ‘Hey, I like men.’” 

When he creates the art he makes now, the personal aspects of his identity are apparent in the themes of his work. 

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Torres' artwork hangs on the walls of his graduate studio on the basement of the Student Success Center.

Hannah Getahun / Daily Forty-Niner

“At first he was going through the phase of showing us very cute ginkgo leaves and then he showed us this and everyone, me included, were like ‘There it is: that is [him],” said Ben Lin, a graduate animation student and one of Torres’ colleagues. “It was, in a way, coming out and really truly expressing what he cared about.”

In his art, Torres depicts pornography and the “distorted perception of sex” it creates by making certain human features like chests, heads and penises appear larger than life. This all ties into the hypermasculine nature of gay pornography.

Torres sometimes juxtaposes the well-toned, aggressive men with imagery of jewels, glitter or clear plastic cover sheets. His work compares traditional feminine themes to traditional masculine themes. 

On his green shirt, Torres pointed to a small butterfly, mariposa in Spanish, pinned to the pocket. Upon closer look, the abdomen and head of the butterfly appear as a penis. 

“Back when I was younger, I was called mariposo,” Torres said. “When you call someone mariposo, it is the equivalent of calling someone a fairy. In society’s view, [fairies are] very feminine, very colorful, very bright. I’ve always been interested in butterflies because they are transformative.” 

In trying to bridge the gap between masculinity and femininity, the intersectionalities of Torres’ culture come into play. Torres is half-Mexican and half-Filipino. Many of his family members were adamantly against the idea that a man could display feminine traits and were fixated on the idea of machismo. 

While the pins, which he sells as “Peens,” are a more palatable version of his artwork, Torres understands that he can’t please everyone with his more explicit art. Those who view his art may “be overwhelmed” by its nature, and not bother to consider its meaning.

“I didn’t react positively to a lot of the drawings that he was doing for his first semester in grad school,” said Huan Nguyen, Torres’ boyfriend. “They were…explicit in their nature, [and it] wasn’t something that I was used to seeing; I thought they weren’t pleasant to look at.”

However, Nguyen has accepted his boyfriend’s work as something that has value for others. 

And Torres has accepted that at the end of the day, despite criticisms or opposing views, his art is for him. 

“I always wanted to please everyone,” Torres said, “but what I got out of this work is that I can’t please everyone…It taught me to love what I do and love myself.”

This post previously contained a misspelled name in the caption and the article and was corrected on Oct. 21 at 1:50 p.m.

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