Greta LaFleur, an Associate Professor of American Studies at Yale who identifies as ‘queer’ and a self-described “angry homosexual” on Twitter, has offered a take on the Pete and Chasten Buttigieg TIME magazine cover in the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Writes LaFleur: “This photo also tells a profound story about whiteness, above and beyond the fact that almost everything in this photo is, itself, white. It’s such an all-consuming aesthetic, here, that it practically resists interpretation; like the generically familiar (to me, a white person) porch, the cover photo claims that there’s nothing to see, because we already know what it is. We have seen this image, we know this couple, ‘we’ should be comfortable. My ‘we’ is particular to me, but then again, I am more or less exactly who this photo is aimed at. As a queer person, I also notice the quasi-uniform-like aesthetic of Pete and Chasten — I wondered, for a second, if they were actually wearing the same pair of pants — marveling for a moment at the sartorial doppel-banging that at first seems to claim center stage in this photo, before realizing that, instead, there’s actually no sex at center stage, here. And that is part of the point.”
LaFleur argues of the “structural power” image: “one of its defining features is its heterosexuality. It’s offering us the promise that our first gay first family might actually be a straight one.”
She goes on to argue that the image co-opts an idea of “family” usually reserved for conservatives as the “antidote to the homosexual” and asks, “is this homonormativity? Or just heterosexuality? If straight people can be queer — as so many of them seem so impatient to explain to me — can’t gay people also be straight?”
The Buttigieg’s clothing, the tulips, the porch, everything in the photo, “the awkwardly minimal touching that invokes the most uncomfortable, unfamiliar, culturally-heterosexual embrace any of us have ever received — offers a vision of heterosexuality without straight people,” LaFleur adds.
LaFleur notes that Pete and Chasten, despite their “heterosexual” coding, will probably face an extreme amount of homophobia and argues that “heterosexuality has become portable” – its latest incarnation, apparently, in this image. And it’s a heterosexuality that doesn’t include women.