Dogging Firemen: The Naked Truth About That ‘Disturbing Gay Orgy’

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What a carry on in the dark!

The very widely-reported story of the Avon firemen disciplined for bringing the Fire Brigade into disrepute and unauthorised use of their fire engine (and torches) is both fnarrr funny and funny peculiar. But the most peculiar aspect of it, and certainly the most serious, is the light it casts on the minds of newspaper editors.

The ‘bare’ facts that can be ascertained from the various reports are these: on their return to their fire station, four on-duty firemen from Avonmouth Fire Station’s ‘Blue Watch’ (no kidding) drove out of their way at night in in a fire engine to a remote cruising/dogging area and shone their powerful Fire Brigade torches into some bushes, supposedly revealing a group of four men involved in ‘a gay sex act’.

According to the newspaper reports, one of the participants in this night-time tryst in the bushes illuminated by the firemen’s torches complained to the Terrence Higgins Trust who then contacted Avon Fire Brigade. Avon Fire Brigade suspended the men on full pay for three months before finding them guilty of bringing the service into disrepute, demoting, fining and moving them to different stations and compelling them to undergo ‘gay awareness’ training.

The Sun, for whom the story was almost tailor-made, devoted most of a page to it: Firemen expose gay doggers, with the strapline ‘Four firemen have been carpeted after disturbing an outdoor gay sex romp.’ The Sun suggests of course that the case was an example of ‘political correctness gone mad’ (and some of the details, such as the ‘re-education’ of the firemen appear to lend themselves to this). It also makes a meal of the ‘criminal’ nature of the acts these public-spirited firemen witnessed.

However, perhaps surprisingly, The Sun, unlike most other newspapers, made some effort to avoid whipping up indignation at the very idea of men having sex with other men outdoors – e.g. the use of ‘gay romp’ (‘romps’ used to be strictly hetero in the Sun; gay sex was ‘sordid’ or ‘sleazy’ or ‘perverted’) and the interesting phrase ‘gay dogging’ (when dogging, a very recent phenomenon, might actually be described as straight cruising).

Funnily enough, The Sun’s sister-with-a-degree-paper The Times, the UK’s paper of record, ran a report that was much more misleading, right down to the headline: ‘Firemen are disciplined for disturbing orgy in bushes’, which in its very ambiguity (are the fireman having the disturbing orgy?) is rather ‘revealing’. The piece failed to make it clear that the firemen had quite literally gone out of their way in council taxpayer’s time, in a fire engine bought and fuelled with taxpayers money, to shine their powerful FB torches on this ‘criminal activity’ – when they should have been back at the fire station awaiting a call from a member of the public whose chip-fan was on fire.

More importantly, like most reports, it also conveyed the impression that the (disturbing) act the firemen witnessed was of course illegal and seemed founded on the absurdity that they should be punished rather than the uppity criminal ‘gay’. (If you think I misread the piece, see the indignant comments about ‘criminal gays’ posted at the end – e.g. ‘I am astounded. Fine upstanding citizens, hardworking firemen who risk there lives to help people, disturb people in an ILLEGAL act and it is they who get into trouble, not the individuals who are behaving in an ILLEGAL and immoral way. This country is going to the tubes’.)

The Daily Telegraph, which doesn’t pretend to be as metropolitan as The Times does these days, managed a better fist of it, despite their equally confusing/revealing headline: ‘Firemen reprimanded for disturbing gay sex act’. The article seemed like the others to presume the ‘illegality’ of the disturbing gay sex act, and the outrageousness of the uppity gay who complained, but, crucially, included (in the print version) a small box at the end by their legal correspondent which contained the rather important point – neglected from all the other reports I saw – that reforms to the law in recent years, doing away with discriminatory laws that criminalized only sex between men, and introducing the concept of ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’, mean that consensual sex between men – or anyone of any gender – in a remote place (in the bushes, at night) isn’t illegal.

So the angle presented in the Sun, The Times, the Telegraph (main story) and the Mail, and in countless Richard Littlejohn style ranting blogs – criminal gays get off (arf) while heroic, upstanding straight firemen are punished – wasn’t an angle at all. Or at least, a highly debatable one.

Even the ‘gay-friendly’ Guardian, in a lengthy report, failed to mention this rather salient fact and conveyed the same erroneous impression, despite quoting prominently, as most if not all of the reports did, an ‘unnamed firefighter’ (who wasn’t present on the Downs that evening) complaining: “This is a complete farce. All four officers have been let down by their senior officers when they needed their support the most. They have been treated as the criminals in this case and it has been completely forgotten that they witnessed criminal activity occurring in a public place.”

Umm, nice try mate, but they didn’t. And they didn’t report what you now say they claim they saw, either.

The Telegraph’s useful little box also mentioned that unwanted voyeurism was potentially illegal. In other words, if you want to get all hoity toity and talk about ‘criminal acts’ the firemen should perhaps consider themselves lucky that they weren’t disciplined and prosecuted.

It’s difficult not to conclude that the firemen, homophobic or not, were in that place at that time of the night shining their torches around in the bushes because they wanted a cheap thrill. They were dogging themselves – but on our time. (Though of course we now get to dog as well by reading the newspaper reports.) If they had observed the usual etiquette of such places and not shone their bloody torches in everyone’s eyes to get a better butchers no one would have rung the THT and they wouldn’t have got into trouble.

As someone who has been cruising in such places myself in the past I know how long it takes to get your night vision back after being blinded by some idiots un-dipped headlights. I think they deserve everything they got.

But the newspapers deserve much, much worse for their dereliction of duty.

As part of the same misrepresentation of the story, most of the reports refer to the (anonymous) four men supposedly involved in the public sex scene unequivocally as ‘gay’ or (in The Times) ‘homosexual’.

How do the newspapers know this as a fact? Were they there in the bushes themselves? Would this have even helped? This was, after all, a pick-up area, we’ve been told, popular with ‘gays’ and ‘straight doggers’. Even exclusively ‘gay’ cruising areas, if there are any left now that straight dogging has become so popular, are not that gay, which is, after all, the point of them: they appeal to married and bisexual men, and men who regard themselves as straight but like a bit of cock every now and again.

And from what I’ve seen of dogging, quite a few ‘straight doggers’ will get involved to some degree with the all-male action if it’s a slow night – or at least have a good look if someone’s putting on a show. Dogging by its very nature tends to wander outside the the usual boundaries of ‘straight’ and ‘gay’.

Besides, the claim that the firemen witnessed any sex at all, let alone a ‘gay orgy’, is just that, a claim, not a fact as presented by the newspaper reports. A claim which seems to have been made only after the firemen were disciplined – and by a disgruntled firemen chum who wasn’t even present that evening. In other words, it’s about as dubious a claim as you could imagine.

So the widely-reported ‘fact’ that it was one of the ‘gays’ taking part in the ‘illegal’ ‘public’ ‘gay orgy’ who contacted the THT – and the basis of all the torrents of righteous indignation – is actually pure fantasy.

Absolutely nothing is known about the man who wanted to know what the firemen where doing there at that time of night other than what the THT has put in the public domain as they were the only people to speak to him and the ones who presented his concerns to the Avon Fire Brigade. They (confirmed in an email to me) have made no statement about his sexuality – and the THT doesn’t ask anyway. He didn’t say anything about what he was doing on the Downs. And he didn’t report any sexual activity to them.

There was never a ‘complaint’ about the firemen made to the THT – a member of the public (we do not ask questions about the sexuality of individuals) merely enquired via the THT as to why the fire engine was at that location.

None of the officers at the time of their disciplinary made reference to seeing anything (illegal/sexual activity) taking place.

There was no ‘gay orgy’ or indeed any sexual activity reported by either a member of the public, the firemen, the police or the THT.

So two facts finally emerge from the bushes:

a) the sexuality of the ‘gay’ who rang the THT and was subjected to national villification is in actual fact as unknown as his identity and

b) the only source for the ‘fact’ that he was part of a ‘gay orgy’ is the disgruntled chum of the disciplined firemen who wasn’t there that evening. And even if he had been, how the blazes would he know who had contacted the THT?

It seems to me that on this one, everyone’s in the dark, thrashing around the bushes with their pants down.

—–

An excellent piece by Rachel Johnson dissecting the farrago, setting the legal record ‘straight’ and and going some way to restoring The Times’ honour appeared the day after I posted this blog.


UPDATE 2008: PCC Complaint

I decided to shine a torch of my own around and referred this widespread misreporting to the Press Complaints Commision. Surprisingly, the secretariat took up my complaint. They don’t usually do this if you are not the party concerned (in this case the party concerned would be the alleged doggers and/or the anonymous man who contacted the THT).

But I explained that as someone who has visited such places in the past the widespread misreporting of the state of the law in regard to outdoor sex criminalised me – and made me and others more likely to be attacked by vigilantes and queerbashers. As a result, a few offending newspapers including Metro and The Yorkshire Post printed letters from me correcting their reporting. The Daily Mail of course refused any such resolution. Despite being the biggest offender – and running a column by Littlejohn on the matter which stated as fact that ‘outdoor sex is illegal’ and essentially encouraging attacks on men who have sex with men outdoors.

The Executive Managing Editor of the Daily Mail Robin Esser’s reply to  the PCC began:

‘First of all the Daily Mail is not homophobic, nor, I believe, is our columnist Mr Littlejohn.’

And that was probably the least absurd part of his letter. In a later one responding to my rebuttal of his, turning down the resolution option of publishing a letter from me, he came out of the closet about the Daily Mail’s political agenda in its misreporting of the story – and exploitation of it:

‘I do not think the Editor would be in favour of a letter which encouraged the pursuit of ‘dogging’, either heterosexual or homosexual, legal or illegal.’

The PCC Commission, a panel of national newspaper editors, chaired I think at that time by Paul Dacre the editor of the Daily Mail, ruled against me – stating that there was not a ‘significant’ breach of their regulations. And anyway, I was a ‘third party’.

In other words, they couldn’t deny that the story and the legal position had been misreported, but it wasn’t ‘significant’ enough to piss off their chum Paul Dacre over.

The Daily Mail did however very kindly agree to ‘put a note in our files’ regarding the story. The PCC declined to explain to me what this actually translates into in terms of accurate reporting in the future and how I would test this statement.

Oh, and in its judgement the Commission insisted on referring repeatedly to the ‘gay men’ taking part in ‘an orgy’, despite my having made it quite clear to them with documentary evidence that neither of these statements were fact but merely loaded opinion/prejudice. I complained about this to the secretariat who took it up with the Commission. The response of the most powerful newspapers in the land to that was to state that ‘because these men were men having sex with one another [sic] it is reasonable to assume they were gay’.

Fallacy based on falsehood is an irresistible force. At least when it comes to the great British press.

UPDATE 14/02/13

Thanks to Chris Park for drawing my attention to this excellent article in Flagship the Fire Brigade Union magazine – which strongly suggests that the anonymous quote from a colleague of the disciplined firemen is bogus too.

Another liberal loses his mind over Larry Craig

An eloquent, but quite unhinged example from SFGate.com columnist Mark Morford of American liberal hysteria over the Craig affair:

‘In fact, Craig’s classic case of GOP hypocrisy, of the chasm between his homophobic public persona and his homosexual personal lusts is simply so blatant, so undeniably grotesque, he becomes a bizarre case study, a cultural curio, a deeply fascinating — albeit largely nauseating — archetype, full of obvious but still mandatory lessons for us all. ‘

What a veritable flurry of irresistible adjectives: ‘Undeniable’, ‘blatant’, ‘nauseating’, ‘grotesque’, ‘obvious’, ‘mandatory’. Very persuasive. Very reasoned.

Now go and have a lie down, dear.

Fortunately SFGate.com have provided the anti-dote to this shrill self-righteousness in the form of a less exciting but much more pertinent piece by Jonathan Zimmerman.

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A Hiding to Nothing: In Defence of Female Masochism

 

A good sadist is hard to find.

But, I can reveal, a good masochist is even harder to find. Whenever I hear the words, ‘Use me, abuse me, do anything you want with me!’ my heart and my manhood always sinks. Not because I have any problem with the idea of using someone. Rather it’s that I know that not far behind this invitation to selfishness are always the words, ‘Not that! This! Not there! Here!’

And Anita Phillips, author of In Defence of Masochism, wonders why masochists have such a bad name. It’s a word that promises so much but then woefully fails to deliver. Far from being a slave to your desires, it turns out to be their pleasure that they’re interested in – just like everyone else.

Worse, not only is their pleasure even more tediously exacting than most people’s, you also have to pretend that it is your pleasure. While the idea of having someone around the home to clean the toilet and bathroom floor with their tongue might appeal in an abstract kind of way, it always, always turns out to be much more work and take much longer than doing it yourself and conducting a common-all-garden, non-masochistic, missionary-position, under-the-floral-duvet-every-other-Sunday-morning relationship. As Phillips admits, the best partner for a masochist is not a sadist, but another masochist.

Sado-masochism, when all’s said and done, is a bit of a con and should be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act.

Nonetheless, there’s plenty of it about these days – and it’s selling like hot candle-wax. Madonna’s early Nineties flirtation with s/m chic seems to have sent it squeaking and creaking up and down the catwalks and into advertising ever since – to the point where a stilettoed heel threatening a man’s bum-hole on a billboard hardly provokes any comment, let alone the rear-end pile-up it might have done just ten years ago.

And while David Cronenberg’s Crash, a film about people who take pleasure being on the receiving end of mutilating car accidents, did provoke outrage and censorship from some quarters, many found it rather banal. Meanwhile the recent film Sick: the Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist seems to have elevated masochism to a kind of super-heroism; how long before we hear little boys whining: ‘Mum, can I have a leather harness and cling-film cape for Xmas, please?’.

Which almost begs the point of a book with the name In Defence of Masochism. However, a recent European Court ruling asserted that assault cannot be consented to (which means, of course, an end to boxing, surgery and supporting Arsenal) suggests that there is still an argument to be made. And, even if most people who don’t wear wigs and suspenders for a living are more laid back about the issue, there are still a number of common misconceptions and prejudices about masochism – most of which Anita Phillips dispatches here with aplomb.

Most notably, the idea that masochism is always someone else’s perversion. Phillips investigates, via Freud and American academic Leo Bersani the universality of masochistic impulses, the thin line between pleasure and pain, and shows how the curdling of these impulses into a condition and a type changed what it means to be human.

‘Masochism’ is one of the inventions of late nineteenth century sexology in the Gothic shape of Baron Dr Richard Von Kraft-Ebing. It was only ever intended to apply to men; women were ‘naturally’ masochistic, so pleasure in pain on their part was not ‘perverse’ and therefore not a problem to be explained or pathologised. This was part of a shift in gender roles in the West in the Nineteenth Century which was concerned with, we are told, institutionalising women’s subjugation. As Phillips points out, ‘Dante’s ordeal in the Inferno to be reunited with Beatrice, to John Donne’s love poetry, sacrificial masculine love has been a crucial theme, only in this century has what for many centuries seemed the natural, desirable form of male love been redefined as effeminate perversity, masochism.’

Phillips believes that this reformulation of male identity that excluded masochism made masculinity ‘blatantly misogynistic, emotionally inept and homophobic’. She also believes that it was this new masculinity which led in part to the ‘corrective’ of feminism. Ironically, the exclusion of masochism from the male psyche has produced a public scenario of their punishment and chastisement by women which continues today. The feminist is Ms Whiplash.

To be sure, we can see that male masochism is now making something of a comeback – what else could explain The Verve and the tortured, feel-my-stigmata ‘soft lad’/’Emo’ tendency? And while this rise of male self-dramatisation/self-obsession may or may not be good news for women in general, it is definitely good news for women like Phillips who enjoy masochistic sex. Paradoxically, now that men are relinquishing their grip on the whip handle, women need no longer feel like they are betraying their sex by expressing fantasies of domination.

But as with most cases of special pleading, Phillips’ argument often slips into evangelism. We are told that masochists are ‘imaginative risk-takers’ and that ‘real eroticism’ requires a certain ‘shattering of the self’. In other words, masochists are on a higher sexual plane to those poor souls who don’t want to get whipped, trussed up and locked in a cupboard for three days. Apparently, ‘the shattering quality of sex needs to be diluted for those who cannot fully handle it…. {and they} make a kind of civic virtue from their own necessity to retreat from the challenge of a full-blooded encounter.’

Perhaps. But those who prefer their sex weak and thin, with the gore and entrails strained out are not necessarily lily-livered. Maybe most people refuse to indulge their masochist leanings any further than a spot of slightly embarrassed spanking or coy nipple tweaking because they have better things to do with their time than trying to ‘discover their limits’ remaking Hellraiser.

 

Originally appeared in the Independent on Sunday, 1997

Gay science

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Lady America seems to be pinned between the thrusting theocracy of St Paul and the passive-aggressive pseudo science of Karl Ulrichs. Not a good look.

I understand that many American gays, most of them middle-aged and no longer with hair whorls of their own, are keen to prove they’re an immutable/congenital minority who can’t help themselves, that Mom isn’t to blame and they need their own reservation – where the Christians can’t be beastly to them. After all, who wants to take personal responsibility for liking Cher?

But if you’re going to look to science to further your pet political project (i.e. yourself) then it does, I’m afraid, make it somewhat tricky criticising those on the right who do the same thing. Surgeon general nominee James Holsinger’s Godly science of the Holy Rectum is as convincing and as objective as the weird science of the Third Sexers.

And that’s without even considering how, whatever the professed aims of the gay scientists involved, talk of congenital conditions always raises the spectre of eugenics. To be honest, if I was to have kids I’m not sure I’d want a gay one. I mean, he might grew up to be a scientist with a chip on his shoulder harassing people on Pride parades wanting to look at their hair whorls.

I think the only way to describe this science is ‘gay’ – in the sense of ‘lame’.

That said, after looking at my my hair whorl, my index finger, my penis length, my head bumps, my underwear and my record collection, I had a revelation on the road to the gymnasium about Who I Really Am.

The results are conclusive, categorical and as clear as the hand in front of my face: I’m definitely a lesbian trapped in a straight man’s gay body.

Tip: Uroskin

Bummed Up The Arse & Overheard At Dinner

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The world of straight trade may have long since disappeared from the streets of London but if you still hanker after that lost economy of boisterousness, straight nightclub toilets might be a fruitful place to loiter. Preferably with a line or two of coke (Colombia’s own version of the Gay Bomb).

Though you might have to be Arthur rather than Martha when it comes to doing the dirty. At least judging by this story related by Mike a mutual friend of Dermod who insisted he passed this anecdote on to me on the grounds that it was ‘such a Mark Simpson story’.

Mike was recently having dinner with a special chum at cheap Thai restaurant in London. They were trying manfully to mind their own homo business. This was a little difficult to do since at the – indecently close – table next to them a beefy blond Cockney wide-boy and a huge fit Nigerian began having an argument about some business deal that had gone tits up.

Things become somewhat heated and they start slagging off, as you do, each other’s birds, for several minutes.

Provoked beyond endurance, Beefy Cockney finally blurts out, ‘Well, at least I don’t get BUMMED UP THE FUCKIN’ ARSE IN CLUB TOILETS!!’

Outraged, Huge Nigerian hotly denies this terrible slur for ten whole minutes. Before finally conceding, under his breath, ‘Ok, Ok, it was just the once though, and you know I was off my head.’

‘Besides,’ he adds, ‘it’s not like you never done it yourself!’

‘THAT’S A FUCKIN’ LIE AN’ YOU KNOW IT!’ retorts Beefy Cockney, really angry now.

Five minutes later they had both conceded that they’d been done up the arse regularly.

Finally, Beefy Cockney turns to Mike (who has been pretending for the past twenty minutes not to be hanging on every word of this exchange) and asks, straight-faced: ‘Mate, can you settle somefink for us? If you saw both ov us walking down the street, which one would you say looked a bit bent?’

‘Hmm… I think it would be hard to tell,’ Mike replies, in all honesty. Then he turns the question around: ‘Do you think I look a bit bent?’

‘Nah,’ replies Beefy Cockney. ‘But your mate does.’

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The Crapsex Guide

‘Most Britons are unhappy with their sex lives’, according to a recent sex survey. Apparently they don’t enjoy it very much (nearly half don’t orgasm every time – and their partners don’t even notice).

Most of all, they complain that their ‘busy lifestyles’ mean they don’t have enough time to have ‘really satisfying sex’.

No wonder. After all, it takes a lot of planning and a whole day of filming to record just one porn scene. Editing can take weeks. Especially if, like me, you have to use a lot of CGI.

And getting a body like the ones sported by the pneumatic couple used by the Sun to illustrate this feature, or in fact any article on sex, relationships, or mortgages, is a full-time occupation. You certainly don’t get one by redeeming your tabloid Family Basket KFC vouchers.

But perhaps you’re bored with all those newspaper and magazine articles, videos, TV shows and nursery school classes on how to have Better! Bigger! Hornier! Hotter! SEX!!! Maybe you’re sick of worrying whether your flexibility and muscle control would get you into the circus or not. Maybe you wonder whether things have gone too far and too blue in consumer culture’s relentless, obsessive, insatiable-inflatable pursuit of eye-popping, bed-slat-snapping, whorish HotSexTM.

If you are you’re probably as over the hill as me.

Either way, I say it’s time to stop skipping to the whip of aspirationally slutty HotSex and drain that water bed, cancel that Viagra bulk order, turn the lights off and take some pride in sex that is not hot.

Otherwise known as crapsex.

To that end I’ve come up with eight semi-erect reasons why lukewarm crapsex is better than horny HotSex (and it only took me three minutes):

  1. You don’t have to worry about your appearance.
    During crapsex you’re covered the whole time by your duvet. During HotSex, you’re forever stopping the action in order to reapply your body make-up and adjust the position of the arc lamps and the camcorder.
  2. Crapsex is quick.
    Because crapsex doesn’t take much time, or effort and, frankly, isn’t very satisfying, there’s always plenty of time and energy left over for important things like over-eating, building ships inside bottles, depression, masturbation. And affection.
  3. Crapsex is cheap.
    No Internet bills, no year-round tan, no gym-membership, no silicone implants, no vacuum-pump, no hay bills for the goat in the backyard. All you need for crapsex is a slightly raised pulse. Well, a pulse.
  4. Crapsex is easy.
    HotSex is an endless competition – with yourself. Each lay is meticulously compared with the last, and rated on a personal-best score-sheet. Crapsex cuts out this grinding stress-cycle with the relaxing reassurance that sex can’t get any worse. HotSex, on the other hand, is bound to.
  5. Crapsex keeps you faithful.
    If you’ve been having lots of a crapsex, otherwise known as ‘monogamy’, it’s sensible to avoid new partners because they might have been having lots of HotSex and will laugh at your untrimmed pubic hair and unsuppressed gag reflex.
  6. Crapsex won’t wake the neighbours.
    Or your partner.
  7. Crapsex doesn’t have to be with someone who is your ‘type’.
    Or acceptable to your personal fetish chart. Instead it can be sex with someone you’re almost quite fond of, when the lights are off and they haven’t been eating onions. And it’s their birthday.
  8. Crapsex is the real world.
    But this is also the reason why most of us these days will choose HotSex every time.

Finally, a condom for butter-fingers…

Is this the end of frantically trying to tear shiny foil with lube-covered fingers while your arousal ticks ever downwards and your partner admires the wallpaper?

Consumerism, in its endless quest to make everything oh-so effortless, does also tend to make things somewhat pointless.

Here however it actually helps you to maintain your pointyness.

All in all a gadget Mr Bond would have found rather more useful than most of those Q foisted on him over the years.