By Mark Simpson
A bullet-pointed column in the NYT by Charles M. Blow examines a sea-change in attitudes towards homosexuality suggested by a recent Gallup poll which found that, for the first time, the percentage of Americans who perceive “gay and lesbian relations” as “morally acceptable” has crossed the symbolically important 50 percent mark.
Also for the first time, and even more significantly, more men than women hold that view. While women’s attitudes have stayed about the same over the past four years, the percentage of men over 50 who consider homosexuality morally acceptable rose by a by an eyebrow-raising 26% –and for those aged 18–49 by an eyepopping 48%.
What on earth has happened in the US since 2006? How did the American male lose his world-famous Christian sphincter-cramp and righteous loathing of sodomy? Have the gays been secretly putting poppers in the locker-room ventilation shaft?
Alas, Gallup doesn’t say. So Mr Blow does what you do at the NYT when you’re stumped: ask some academics. They came up with three theories:
- As more gay people come out more straight people get to personally know gay people which makes it more difficult to discriminate.
- Men may be becoming more ‘egalitarian’ in general, partly thanks to feminism.
- “Virulent homophobes are increasingly being exposed for engaging in homosexuality”.
Now, the first two of these theories seem to me fairly plausible explanations for increased acceptance of homosexuality at any time, but not especially in the last few years – let alone that whopping 48% rise for 18–49 year olds. But the third theory about public homophobes being exposed as secretly gay perhaps goes too far in the opposite direction and is too current-news specific. As if the discovery that famous homophobe George Rekkers hired a rent boy to give him ‘special’ massages could transform attitudes towards man-love overnight – rather than just change attitudes towards George Rekkers.
So I give them all just a C minus.
And, as Blow points out, none of these theories address the main finding – that men now are more accepting than women, reversing the gender split on this subject that has held since pollsters started bugging people with questions about ‘homosexual relations’.
In my own speculative opinion, none of these theories can see the rainforest for the trees. Of course young men in the US are much more accepting of homosexuality – because so many of them are now way gay themselves. It’s not really an issue of ‘tolerance’ or ‘acceptance’ of ‘otherness’ at all. It’s about self-interest – quite literally. About men being less down on the gays because they’re less hard on themselves now – in fact, rather sweet instead. It’s about men in general not being so quick to renounce and condemn their own ‘unmanly’ desires or narcissism – or project it into ‘faggots’.
Which from the point of view of today’s sensually greedy male would be a terrible waste of a prostate gland. Probably most young men are now doing pretty much everything that freaky gay men were once abhorred for doing – from anal play (both ways) to no-strings fuck-buddies, to crying over Glee, and using buff-puffs in the shower while demanding as their male birthright ‘comfortable skin’ (as the recent massive ad campaign for Dove for Men puts it).
And the timing fits almost as snugly as a finger or three where the sun don’t shine. It was after all only in 2003 that the Supreme Court finally struck down the anti sodomy laws still on the statute books of some US states as unconstitutional. It was also in the early Noughties that metrosexuality really took off in the US.
Despite a mid-Noughties anti-metro, anti-gay marriage backlash that helped re-elect Bush, in the Tweenies the male desire to be desired, and his eagerness to use product – and body parts and practises – once deemed ‘gay’ or ‘feminine’ or just ‘wrong’ to achieve this, seems to have become pretty much accepted amongst most American males under 45. It’s consumerism and advertising of course not the gays that has been putting the poppers in the men’s locker room.
Along the way, many young men have twigged that in a post-feminist world of commodified bodies and online tartiness there is decidedly no advantage to them any more in an essentially Victorian sexual division of labour in the bedroom and bathroom that insists only women are looked at and men do the looking, that women are always passive and men are always active – or in the homophobia that was used to enforce it. Men now want it all. Both ends.
And perhaps American women aren’t keeping up with men’s changing attitudes because some are realising how ‘gay’ their boyfriends and husbands are already and wondering where this is all leading.
There’s plenty to wonder about. After all, it’s the end of the road for that holiest American institution of all: Heterosexuality. Not cross-sex attraction, of course, or reproduction – but that system of compulsory, full-time, always-asserted straightness for men which straying from momentarily, or even just failing to show sufficient respect towards in the past could cost you your cojones. What, you a FAG?? If metrosexuality is based on vanity, retrosexuality, it needs to be pointed out, was based partly on self-loathing. ‘Real men’ were supposed to be repulsed by their own bodies at least as much as they were repulsed by other men’s. (If they were really lucky they might get away with passionate indifference.)
After a decade or so of metrosexuality a tipping point seems to have been reached. Men’s self-loving bi-sensuality and appreciation of male beauty, awakened and increasingly normalised by our mediated world, seems to be here to stay. Even in the God-fearing USA. And might now, if it’s in the mood and treated right, choose to be consummated rather than just deflected into consumerism again. When I first wrote about how the future of men was metrosexual, back in 1994, it was clear to me that metrosexuality was to some degree the flipside of the then emerging fashion for female bi-curiousness. I didn’t talk about this much at the time because I knew no one would listen if I did. (I needn’t have worried – they didn’t anyway.)
In this regard, one of the academics in the NYT piece was (finally) quoted as saying something interesting, right at the end:
‘Professor Savin-Williams says that his current research reveals that the fastest-growing group along the sexuality continuum are men who self-identify as “mostly straight” as opposed to labels like “straight,” “gay” or “bisexual.” They acknowledge some level of attraction to other men even as they say that they probably wouldn’t act on it, but … the right guy, the right day, a few beers and who knows. As the professor points out, you would never have heard that in years past.’
An A ++ to Dr Savin-Williams. Not so long ago, when Heterosexuality was a proper belief system that commanded round-the-clock obeisance, ‘mostly straight’ would have been a heretical contradiction in terms – like half pregnant. But in this Brave New World of male neediness it’s just a statement of where we’re at.
For today’s young men the fear of faggotry is fast being replaced by the fear of missing out.
Tip: Dermod Moore