Tom Daley Comes Out — As Happy

In the affect­ing, intimate-yet-professional YouTube clip above, a slightly red-eyed and emo­tional Tom Daley, the Olympic medal win­ning British diver and best thing to hap­pen to Speedos since Mark Spitz, says he was mis­quoted in an inter­view earlier this year in which he appeared to deny he was gay (albeit insist­ing he wouldn’t be ashamed if he was). He went on to make an announce­ment that you have prob­ably already read about.

Now I feel ready to talk about my rela­tion­ships. And come spring my life changed massively when I met someone and they make me feel so safe, happy and everything feels great. And that someone is a guy.’

Cue ban­ner head­lines announ­cing TOM DALEY COMES OUT!!. Millions of really witty Tweets about #TomGayley. And The Daily Telegraph inform­ing us on the front page of their online edi­tion that nineteen-year-old Tom has announced he is a nine­teenth cen­tury med­ical clas­si­fic­a­tion: ‘homosexual’.

Daily Telegraph 'Daley announces he is homosexual'
Daily Telegraph: ‘Daley announces he is homosexual’

Though in the actual clip rather than people’s over­heated minds Tom says no such thing. What he Tom Daley, the per­son whose sexu­al­ity we’re all pronouncing-pouncing on comes out as is: someone dat­ing a man who makes him feel safe and happy.

He also goes on to say: ‘I still fancy girls, of course’. He doesn’t in fact define his sexu­al­ity at any point, as gay, straight or even bisexual. That may change. Or it might not. And I’m sure every­one has an opin­ion on that.

But frankly, it doesn’t mat­ter. Whatever we might like to ana­lyse or gos­sip or spec­u­late — and I’m guilty of all those vices myself — in the end it’s really not our con­cern. It’s nineteen-year-old Tom’s con­cern. For all the crow­ing yes­ter­day from people who ALWAYS KNEW that Tom was A GAY, cur­rently his sexu­al­ity remains offi­cially undefined – even though yes, he does still have pretty eyes a soft voice and a really pert bum.

Tom’s jour­ney is his own to make. And sexu­al­ity itself is a jour­ney that doesn’t have to have a final des­tin­a­tion. But try telling that to the press. This excel­lent piece in the Guardian by Nichi Hodgson about the media’s need to label Tom as GAY said it best:

The only facts that speak for them­selves are that Daley is dat­ing a man, and wants to be hon­est about the fact so the media doesn’t try to make asser­tions about his per­sonal life and pref­er­ences for him. Instead, the only thing that has been outed today is the media’s rigid­ity – and stu­pid­ity – when it comes to report­ing on sexuality.”

Perhaps Tom might have been able to tell the world he was dat­ing a guy a bit sooner if the world, straight and gay hadn’t been yelling YOURE GAY!!! at him for most of his teens. If we all dialled the gay­dar down a little and erred on the side of open-mindedness it would make it a lot easier for guys to be open about their interest in other guys. Or bronzer and Speedos.

Though per­haps that is to miss part of the point of gay­dar – that it can be a form of sur­veil­lance. A way of poli­cing men’s appear­ance, gender style and sex lives, even and espe­cially when it’s gay men oper­at­ing it. It’s a source of con­stant won­der to me how many gay people for all their pride in their super-accurate long-distance gay­dar can’t see the sexual lib­er­a­tion wood for the gay trees.

This is the bit in Tom’s vid that we’re all not hearing:

In an ideal world I would not be doing this video because it should not matter.”

tom daley

The Global Glory Hole


Mark Simpson on the endur­ing allure of anonym­ous sex in an age of gay mar­riage and ‘anti-social net­work­ing

I was six­teen when saw my first glory hole. Or rather, saw my first filled glory hole. It was in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, a public-spirited, snob­bish spa town well-served by shiny Victorian lav­at­or­ies. The throb­bing, fleshy wall-fitting in my tiled cubicle was quite a sight. Glorious, even. Truly an impress­ive, proud piece of pol­ished plumbing.

Cottaging, or cruis­ing for sex in pub­lic lav­at­or­ies and parks, was once a main­stay of the gay demi monde. It’s easy to see why. When any and all sex between men was still illegal as it was in the UK before the (par­tial) decrim­in­al­isa­tion of 1967, anonym­ous sex was often the only kind avail­able. It was prob­ably the only sens­ible kind too since the more your part­ner knew about you the more you left your­self open to black­mail. Thanks to British muni­cipal pride, toi­lets were every­where – and also nowhere: a kind of word­less no man’s land where any­thing might hap­pen. Much like homosexuality.

The glory hole itself is the ulti­mate sym­bol of anonym­ous ‘no strings’ sex – an erect, dis­em­bod­ied cock stick­ing through a wall. Even bricks and mor­tar can’t hold it back. Nameless, shame­less desire. As a horny teen­ager in the early 1980s, when sex with another male was still com­pletely illegal for me – not being over 21 and not in a pos­i­tion to have sex ‘in private’, two key, kill­joy stip­u­la­tions of the 1967 Act – I was very, very inter­ested in what went on in pub­lic toilets.

Orton toilet
Joe Orton’s favour­ite water­ing hole.

But I never really got the hang of it. Less Joe Orton more sad Captain in Querelle of Brest I pre­ferred to scru­tin­ise the filthy, implor­ing mes­sages and some­what optim­istic ana­tom­ical draw­ings on the walls. The busi­ness of stand­ing around for hours like cheese at four pence pre­tend­ing to piss was bey­ond me – I was far too self-conscious already. Plus sex in cubicles seemed fool­ish: there’s no escape route, either from the rozzers or from the other party.

It was only later, after run­ning away to London and join­ing the out-and-proud gay world of gay bars and clubs and volun­teer­ing for London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard that I dis­covered my true home – an over­grown corner of Hampstead Heath pop­u­lar at night with gen­tle­men hav­ing trouble sleep­ing. The old skool twi­light world of the homo­sexual is where I really belonged. I spent many warm sum­mer even­ings there enjoy­ing word­less trysts that were often as romantic as they were anonym­ous. I also spent many long hours wan­der­ing around in ever-expanding circles in the freez­ing fog in February. Compulsive sex can be pretty compulsive.

As that global glory hole called the inter­net was to make even clearer. The arrival of online ‘dat­ing’ sites like Gaydar in the late 90s depop­u­lated gay cruis­ing areas like Hampstead Heath – which had already suffered com­pet­i­tion from the host of back rooms, sex clubs and gay saunas that opened in London that dec­ade. But now every­one was sat at home logged on with a lob on look­ing to ‘accom’. Today of course it’s all about Grindr, the mobile gay ‘dat­ing’ app that uses GPS tech­no­logy to allow you to cruise for locally-sourced cock at Tescos, on the bus or while hav­ing din­ner with your mum.


Which has cre­ated some­thing that looks, through a van­dal­ised toi­let cubicle par­ti­tion, like a para­dox. Now that homo­sexu­al­ity has been com­pletely decrim­in­al­ised, legal equal­ity and accept­ance achieved, same sex mar­riage is on the way — and most pub­lic toi­lets have been shut or turned into tan­ning salons — it some­times seems as if all gay men today are e-cottaging. Constantly.

Some argue that this is a shame­ful and shame-filled hangover from the period of illeg­al­ity and hid­ing – that it’s a form of inter­n­al­ised homo­pho­bia pre­vent­ing gay men from hav­ing proper (i.e. mono­gam­ous) rela­tion­ships. This seems to be the thesis of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s award-winning 2008 play The Pride, cur­rently run­ning at Trafalgar Studios, London in a new pro­duc­tion by Jamie Lloyd. In it a 1950s male couple are driven apart by guilt and repres­sion, while a con­tem­por­ary gay couple are riven by the ‘self-hating’ ‘addic­tion’ one of them has to anonym­ous sex.

Some have gone fur­ther and argued that because gay men can get civil partnered or soon, mar­ried, they now owe it to soci­ety to leave behind their irre­spons­ible life­style from an oppressed past, stop let­ting the side down and ‘grow up’.

Into what, though?

Now, I cer­tainly wouldn’t deny that cas­ual sex can be a bad habit that’s dif­fi­cult to break – and one that can make hav­ing a long-term rela­tion­ship more dif­fi­cult. But really only if mono­gamy is part of the deal. And in my exper­i­ence most long term gay male rela­tion­ships are open (though I real­ise you’re not sup­posed to say that in front of straight people). Arguably, the always-available cul­ture of anonym­ous sex, the gap­ing glory hole, isn’t what stops gay men from hav­ing rela­tion­ships, it’s per­haps what makes many long-term gay rela­tion­ships pos­sible where oth­er­wise the com­mit­ment might be too smothering.

Precisely because sex is so freely and so anonym­ously avail­able for gay men it is less likely to be the found­a­tion of their rela­tion­ship – and sex out­side the rela­tion­ship less likely to rep­res­ent a threat. ‘Darling, I prom­ise you, he meant noth­ing to me!’ is a line that most gay men don’t need to use – since they prob­ably only know the ‘other woman’ as ‘MassiveMeat69’.

And if I wanted to be really cyn­ical I could say that as far as the penis is con­cerned there is only one kind of sex and it’s anonym­ous.

While the gen­eral rel­ev­ance of gay cul­ture for gay people tends to recede as homo­pho­bia rap­idly falls off and integ­ra­tion speeds up, it shouldn’t really be a sur­prise that the world of anonym­ous sex per­sists and in fact flour­ishes. Like camp it’s the slutty sens­ib­il­ity of a cul­ture of (too much) choice — and an escape from (out-and-proud) iden­tity. After all, Grindr’s logo is a mask. Anti-social networking.

The gay cul­ture of anonym­ous, or at least ‘no strings’ sex is also some­thing non gays seem very keen to appro­pri­ate. Ironically, now that gays have begun to con­vince much of the Western World they’re ‘just like straight people’ and thus worthy of mar­riage, straight people seem to be spend­ing all their time dog­ging, check­ing their mes­sages on Badoo and decon­struct­ing mono­gamy.

But I would say that. When it comes to anonym­ous sex I’m a lifer. When I was in the grip of a pimply hor­monal frenzy, gawp­ing at glory holes, scan­ning the dirty graf­fiti, or cruis­ing Hampstead Heath, I used to kid myself I was look­ing for love in all the wrong places. Then later I thought that I wanted love to save me from sex. Nowadays, like many other middle-aged men whose libido is in free-fall, I pray for sex to save me from love.

Mark Simpson’s Kindle Single ‘End of Gays?’ is avail­able to down­load.

How to Spot a Sodomite

Mark Simpson reviews some fam­ous Victorian bum holes in Neil McKenna’s Fanny & Stella (the Independent)

I had never seen any­thing like it before… I do not in my prac­tise ever remem­ber to have seen such an appear­ance of the anus, as those of the pris­on­ers presen­ted.” So test­i­fied Dr Paul in shocked tones at the trial of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, two young, cross-dressing clerks charged with sod­omy in 1870 — a crime that then car­ried a pen­alty of a lifetime’s penal servitude.

Park and Boulton had been arres­ted in the Strand Theatre dressed as their coquet­tish, las­ci­vi­ous alter egos Fanny and Stella. The trial of “The Funny He-She Ladies” as the press dubbed them, was the sen­sa­tion of the age. Largely for­got­ten until now, Neil McKenna’s highly read­able recount­ing brings it roar­ing back to life.

According to the med­ical author­it­ies of the day the signs of sod­omy were eas­ily detect­able. A wear­ing away of the rugae around the anus, mak­ing it resemble the female labia. Elongation of the penis, caused by the “trac­tion” of sod­omy. And dila­tion. Dilation was the big­gie. The way one tested for it was by the inser­tion of a pro­fes­sional fin­ger. Repeatedly. If the sphinc­ter failed to show enough res­ist­ance to the learned finger-fucking then you were deal­ing with a sodomite.

The appalled police doc­tor was as we’ve seen con­vinced he had fingered major sod­om­ites. Six more doc­tors lined up to inspect the upraised rectums of Park and Boulton and insert their digits, repeatedly. After two fetid hours, five declared there were no signs of sod­omy to be found on or in either arres­ted anus.

In fact, both Park and Boulton were guilty as pro­ver­bial sin. Their bot­toms had been rogered sense­less by half of London — though, unlike the good doc­tors, their part­ners usu­ally paid. From respect­able middle-class back­grounds they enjoyed work­ing as brazen, hoot­ing cross-dressing pros­ti­tutes in the even­ing, as you do. The single dis­sent­ing doc­tor had a few years earlier treated Park repeatedly for a syph­il­itic sore in his anus.

But because the med­ical prob­ing had pro­duced the oppos­ite med­ical opin­ion to the one hoped for, and because sod­omy was such a ser­i­ous offence (car­ry­ing a pen­alty of life with hard labour) the Attorney-General had to with­draw all charges of actual sod­omy. Instead Boulton and Park were charged with the vaguer but still ser­i­ous catch-all of “con­spir­acy to soli­cit, induce, pro­cure and endeav­our to per­suade per­sons unknown to com­mit buggery”.

Seventeen dresses and gowns; quant­it­ies of skirts and pet­ti­coats; bod­ices and blouses; cloaks and shawls; ladies’ unmen­tion­ables, all a bit whiffy and worse for (work­ing) wear, were paraded through the court as evid­ence. Although cross-dressing was not in itself a crime, and was actu­ally a pop­u­lar form of bur­lesque enter­tain­ment at the time in which both Fanny and Stella had enjoyed some suc­cess, the Victorian state was keen to make the case — presen­ted by Attorney General Sir Robert Collier him­self — that their cross-dressing was part and par­cel of their abom­in­able sod­omy and the “con­fu­sion” of the nat­ural and godly gender order it rep­res­en­ted. The male anus dressed as a vagina. This approach also back­fired, spectacularly.

Digby Seymour for the defence asked the court, “Would young men engaged in the exchange of wicked and accursed embraces put on the dresses of women and go to theatres and pub­lic places for the pur­pose of excit­ing each other to the com­mis­sion of this out­rageous crime?” In other words, the very obvi­ous­ness and shame­less­ness of Stella and Fanny’s (deli­ciously out­rageous) beha­viour was presen­ted as proof that they could not pos­sibly be guilty. Which, in a strange, 20th-century gay pride sense, was sort of true.

But the defence’s ace in the, er, hole was a final, irres­ist­ible appeal to pat­ri­ot­ism. “I trust that you will pro­nounce by your ver­dict,” intoned Digby Seymour, “that London is not cursed with the sins of Sodom, or Westminster tain­ted with the vices of Gomorrah.”

The jury did its duty and the “fool­ish” young men, as their defence termed them, were acquit­ted — hav­ing fooled most of their cus­tom­ers, the doc­tors, the courts and the imper­i­ous Victorian state.

Camp For Beginners

Mark Simpson inter­views David Halperin about his con­tro­ver­sial new book How To Be Gay at

 I’ve always been a big fan of Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, and Doris Day. But it was a secret, shame­ful love — until, that is, David Halperin’s new book, How to Be Gay (Harvard University Press), finally gave me the strength to come out about it. Talking about gay cul­ture can make people of all per­sua­sions very angry indeed. When Halperin began teach­ing a course on it at the University of Michigan called “How to Be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation” back in 2000, it caused a national scan­dal: He was inund­ated with out­raged, abus­ive emails, politi­cians tried to axe fund­ing for his uni­ver­sity, and his course was denounced on Fox News, as well as in some corners of the gay press.

SIMPSON: How on earth did your charming—entirely chaste—course on gay ini­ti­ation man­age to upset so many people, straight and gay?

HALPERIN: It was the title. Conservatives in the United States had long sus­pec­ted that col­lege pro­fess­ors aim to con­vert straight teen­agers to homo­sexu­al­ity; now they had the proof. And gay people in the United States get very upset at the slight­est implic­a­tion that any aspect of homo­sexu­al­ity might not be inborn. Of course, I was neither try­ing to con­vert straight stu­dents nor sug­gest that people become gay because they are recruited into the homo­sexual life­style. But in order to under­stand that, you would have had to read the entire course descrip­tion, not just the title. It’s inter­est­ing, though, that gay cul­ture should be more scan­dal­ous nowadays than gay sex.

If you’re doing it right… Do you expect your book to cause a sim­ilar out­cry? Do you want it to?
I never like to upset people, and I don’t aspire to be polem­ical, but I have a point of view to defend and I think the book is going to be con­tro­ver­sial because it cel­eb­rates the fact that gay men are not exactly like every­body else. In an era of gay assim­il­a­tion, the notion of gay dif­fer­ence arouses a lot of doubt and suspicion.

Is it true to say that the gay cul­ture you are writ­ing about is mostly the “gay sens­ib­il­ity” — the sub­cul­tural appro­pri­ation and sub­ver­sion of main­stream straight cul­ture that char­ac­ter­ized pre-Stonewall gay life? Judy! Joan! Oklahoma!
Yes, I’m inter­ested in the per­sist­ence of that sub­cul­tural appro­pri­ation at a time when gay people have now cre­ated their own cul­ture. I love that new, post-Stonewall gay cul­ture, but it has trouble com­pet­ing with the appeal of those tra­di­tional icons or their con­tem­por­ary des­cend­ants, like Lady Gaga, and I wanted to find out why. I wanted to know why gay men in par­tic­u­lar still thrill to divas and train wrecks when they have ori­ginal works of gay fic­tion, movies, and pop cul­ture that fea­ture gay men instead.

Why has the out-and-proud gay iden­tity failed to kill off the self-loathing, closeted gay sens­ib­il­ity?
Because gay iden­tity can’t con­tain the full play of gay desire. I dis­covered this when I taught a class on con­tem­por­ary gay male lit­er­at­ure a dozen years ago — I expec­ted gay male stu­dents to like such a class. But they got bored with the read­ing and amused them­selves instead by draw­ing car­toons on the attend­ance sheet, por­tray­ing the mem­bers of the class — includ­ing me — as char­ac­ters from The Golden Girls or Steel Magnolias. That’s when I real­ized I was doing some­thing wrong and decided to teach “How to Be Gay.”

Does the fact that you’re in many ways an out­sider on gay cul­ture make you the right or the wrong per­son to write this book?
Both. I spend a lot of time recon­struct­ing labor­i­ously and impre­cisely what many gay men already know. I’m sure they could do it bet­ter, but they aren’t talk­ing, except in one-liners. It takes someone who doesn’t get it on the first take to work out the logic. I wish someone else would do the explain­ing, but it looks like I have to.

How bad at being gay are you? Embarrassing examples, please.
Terrible, truly ter­rible. I’m not a very camp per­son; I’m very ser­i­ous. I spent the first sev­eral dec­ades of my life absorb­ing high cul­ture — study­ing Greek tragedy, German music, American polit­ics. I thought the appeal of Judy Garland to gay men was a pro­found enigma. I hated disco and loved rock music. I was a junkie for meaning.

Tell me about your “mother” — or rather, the fact that you didn’t have one. Do you wish you’d had an older gay male con­fid­ante who taught you about gay cul­ture?
Well, from time to time in my youth I would meet a wise old queen — that is, someone in their early thirties — who would explain to me why my idi­otic notions about gay romance were wrong. But in some respects, my “mother” turns out to have been an Australian boy­friend half my age who made me watchThe Women about 20 years after I came out.

To my undy­ing shame, I only saw that film myself a year ago. So many great, instruct­ive lines: “Cheer up, Mary, liv­ing alone has its com­pens­a­tions. Heaven knows it’s mar­velous being able to spread out in bed like a swastika.”
Golly, I’d for­got­ten those. How about “Pride’s a lux­ury a woman in love can’t afford”?

Back in the ’70s, when I came out, I saw no need for a mother. Like many gay people of my gen­er­a­tion, I thought homo­sexu­al­ity was just a sexual ori­ent­a­tion — I res­isted being ini­ti­ated into a sep­ar­ate cul­ture. I just wanted to know how to find guys who would sleep with me, how to be sexu­ally ful­filled, how to have a suc­cess­ful love affair.

Of course, it turns out that gay cul­ture was full of inform­a­tion about that topic, but the inform­a­tion it offered seemed mostly use­less or homo­phobic; it implied that the object of gay desire did not exist. Now, after dec­ades of dis­il­lu­sion­ment, we may be com­ing round to some of those rad­ical insights. But that will be the sub­ject of my next book!

What will it be called? There Is No Great Dark Man?
Perhaps After Sexuality, Love.

A cher­ished line of mine in your book is ‘Sometimes I think homo­sexu­al­ity is wasted on gay people.’ Why are gays these days so keen to out-straight the straights?
They’ve been bought off with prom­ises of nor­mal­ity, and their social worlds have been des­troyed, so they lack the con­text and the cour­age to claim their cul­tural her­it­age, to the genius of being queer. They still pro­duce cul­tural break­throughs of bril­liance, but they aren’t com­fort­able tak­ing credit for them.

Is it a para­dox that the resur­gence of bio­lo­gical explan­a­tions of homo­sexu­al­ity has coin­cided with the dom­in­ance of the line “gays are just like every­one else,” except even more bor­ing?
It’s kind of weird that so much of the gay move­ment embraces that bogus gay sci­ence, because that’s the one area in which claims of gay dif­fer­ence are tri­umph­ing in a kind of return to Victorian notions about con­gen­ital abnor­mal­ity. You would think gay people would prefer to think of them­selves as cul­tur­ally dif­fer­ent rather than bio­lo­gic­ally dif­fer­ent. But here you can meas­ure the effect in the United States of reli­giously inspired homo­pho­bia: In order to dodge the implic­a­tion that homo­sexu­al­ity is a sin­ful choice, gay people are will­ing to accept bio­lo­gical determinism.

Believing that you only suck cock because God made you do it is kinda kinky, though. Are you a bit of a gay chau­vin­ist. Do you believe that being gay is bet­ter than being straight?
Yes, I am and I do. At least, I can’t ima­gine liv­ing any other way, or want­ing to. I cer­tainly think being gay is bet­ter than being a straight man. But then nobody really likes straight men, except for some mis­guided gay guys.

I know I’m hope­lessly mis­guided, but I do think straight men make the best bot­toms. Sometimes I won­der, though, whether you might not have too much faith in het­ero­sexu­al­ity. After all, how straight is straight these days?
Straight people these days may often be highly per­verse, but that doesn’t make them gay. They would like to think they’re queer — the cat­egory “queer” is the greatest gift gay people ever gave straight people, because it allows straight people to claim an edgy, trans­gress­ive iden­tity without hav­ing to do any­thing icky — but that’s just their usual insist­ence on being the everyman.

But you admit that some of your best “How to Be Gay” stu­dents were straight…
Yes, they were. There are lots of straight people who under­stand gay male cul­ture bet­ter and who enjoy it more than gay men. There are num­bers of straight people who are cul­tur­ally gay, but gay­ness also involves that extra little sexual thing… It’s not a lot, but it adds something.

After teach­ing this course for a while and writ­ing this book, are you any campier? Do you watch Glee? Desperate Housewives? Even Joan Crawford movies, when you’re not using them in class?
No, I still hate pop­u­lar cul­ture. I did love Desperate Housewives, even if it declined after the first sea­son. But then, its pro­du­cer was a great comic gay writer. I loved it for the same reason I loved Serial Mom: It pro­duced such a demen­ted ver­sion of nor­mal life. I do think work­ing on this book made me a lot gayer; I’m much more will­ing to claim my cul­tural birth­right as a gay man in everything, from the kind of music I like to the kind of food I eat. But I’m still a des­per­ate case, and I have a long way to go to catch up with the rest of you.


Traditional Masculinity Has a Stroke — From ‘Burly Rugby Player’ 2 ‘Gay Hairdresser’

My friend Michelle, formerly the male strip­per known as ‘Stud-U-Like’, aler­ted me to this ‘freaky’ tale of trans­form­a­tion repor­ted in this week’s freaky Daily Mail with this price­less headline:

Burly rugby player has a stroke after freak gym acci­dent… wakes up gay and becomes a hairdresser

It then teases us with a couple of ‘shock­ing’ bullet-pointed facts

  •  Chris Birch loses eight stone and trans­forms him­self from skin­head to ‘preened man’
  • Gives up job in bank and retrains as a hairdresser


Cutting to the chase:

Mr Birch recalled: ‘I was gay when I woke up and I still am. It sounds strange but when I came round I imme­di­ately felt different.

I wasn’t inter­ested in women any more. I was def­in­itely gay. I had never been attrac­ted to a man before – I’d never even had any gay friends.

But I didn’t care about who I was before, I had to be true to my feelings.’

Before the acci­dent Mr Birch, of Ystrad Mynach, South Wales, had spent his week­ends watch­ing sport and drink­ing with his mates.

But he said: ‘Suddenly, I hated everything about my old life. I didn’t get on with my friends, I hated sport and found my job boring.

I star­ted to take more pride in my appear­ance, bleached my hair and star­ted work­ing out. I went from a 19-stone skin­head to an 11-stone preened man.

People I used to know barely recog­nised me and with my new look I became even more confident.’

The copy and a sup­port­ive quote from a neur­os­cient­ist seems to sug­gest only two explan­a­tions: ‘he was gay all along but didn’t know it before the stroke’; or ‘his stroke made him gay and good with colours’.

I’m not a neur­os­cient­ist, but it seems to me that there are more than two pos­sible explan­a­tions here.

Maybe Mr Birch was just fed up with being the big Welsh boyo every­one wanted him to be and when it almost killed him he decided: ‘Sod THAT for a game of sol­diers! Life’s too short. I’m gonna be a FLAMER!!’

Maybe Mr Birch simply resolved, albeit uncon­sciously, to be about Mr Birch from now on, not what his fam­ily, friends and fiancée expec­ted of him. Maybe he chose to reject het­ero­sexu­al­ity because it made too many demands on him. And what bet­ter way to escape its demands in a small Welsh town by wak­ing up from a near death exper­i­ence as the only gay in the village?

Being a bloke’s bloke isn’t always as much fun as it looks. And being hon­est, it usu­ally doesn’t look that much fun any­way. You don’t have to be a ‘secret gay’ to find it miser­able and oppress­ive. And more often than not you’ll be pun­ished if you try to escape. Look at what happened to Shane Warne, whose own trans­form­a­tion from beer-bellied Aussie ste­reo­type to flam­ing met­ro­sexual has been reg­u­larly pil­lor­ied in the papers, includ­ing the one in which this latest sport­ing trans­form­a­tion story appeared.

Though of course nowadays it’s some­times pos­sible to be a rugby-playing Welshman and some­thing of a flamer too. Maybe Mr Birch should have taken a leaf out of fel­low Welshman Gavin Henson’s bach­elor book and con­tin­ued play­ing with odd-shaped balls but as a ‘preened’ rugby player. But then again, per­haps he didn’t have the legs for it.

And as for Mr Birch’s new-found interest in chaps. Well, I’m sorry but I don’t think it very sur­pris­ing when males find other males sexu­ally inter­est­ing. Or some­thing that needs to be explained by a stroke. At least not the kind the Daily Mail reports.

There is though yet another pos­sible explan­a­tion for all this. That this story is com­plete twaddle. It did after all appear in the Daily Mail. And the writer is the same one who repor­ted pretty much every import­ant fact about this infam­ous ‘gay orgy in the bushes’ story incor­rectly, appar­ently pan­der­ing to the ima­gined Daily Mail reader’s worst fantasies.

Also, the stroke that ‘turned him gay’ (instantly, appar­ently), happened in 2005. Why wait six years to tell the national press? Especially if you told your par­ents and fiancée when you came round in the hospital.

And I seem to recall that when I first read this story about Mr Birch online yes­ter­day it men­tioned that he and his fiancé/girlfriend were ‘tak­ing a break’ before the acci­dent. The piece was ‘updated’ today and this detail is nowhere to be found.

And then we have the ban­ner head­line which talks about a ‘freak gym acci­dent’ caus­ing his injur­ies but the copy talks instead about ‘him attempt­ing a back flip in front of friends on a field when he fell down a grass bank, break­ing his neck and suf­fer­ing the stroke.’ Or the way the ‘before’ pic­ture appears to have been manipulated/squashed to make him look burlier.

But my favour­ite dodgy pas­sage is this one:

He was taken to hos­pital where his fiancée and fam­ily spent days wait­ing anxiously at his bed­side before he delivered the shock­ing news.’

What? More shock­ing than break­ing his neck, suf­fer­ing a stroke and nearly dying?

UPDATE 18/04/12

Last night BBC3 aired ‘I Woke Up Gay’, a doc­u­ment­ary about Mr Birch. It was an hour long, but apart from some local Welsh col­our, some more snaps of Birch pre-stroke when he was straight and very chunky (“Oh! That’s AWFUL!!’” was today’s slim­line Birch’s hor­ri­fied response to them) and more close-ups of Birch’s remark­able hairdo, which looks like a badly ironed dead badger, the doc didn’t really add any­thing to the Mail’s story. Or really cla­rify the ‘con­fu­sions’. (Birch says he ‘can’t remem­ber’ much of his pre-stroke past.)

It did how­ever leave you feel­ing that the whole thing wasn’t just cooked up by the Mail, and that Mr Birch seems to believe his own story. Or per­haps needs to believe it. Though it’s still not entirely clear when exactly he decided on it. His fam­ily were not­able by their absence in the doc — appar­ently he has become estranged from most of the people he used to know before the stroke.

I don’t wish to sug­gest as many have done that Birch is ‘lying’, or was a ‘closet queen’ before the stroke. Or that he’s simply attention-seeking (though he cer­tainly doesn’t seem to mind it). I do think though that he may be deceiv­ing him­self — but then, we all do that. To some extent prob­ably most com­ing out stor­ies are fic­tional if neces­sary nar­rat­ives. What’s inter­est­ing is not what his story says not about dubi­ous ‘brain sci­ence’ but about how dif­fi­cult it can still be for some to accept them­selves in places like the Valleys as gay, or just not a boozy rug­ger bugger.

In that kind of situ­ation a stroke might even be a stroke of luck. At least in the sense of giv­ing you a chance to rein­vent yourself.

The ‘high­light’ of the doc was when Birch travels up to London to see the Wizard of Oz — or rather, a highly con­tro­ver­sial sci­ent­ist called Quazi Rahman who believes that gay men’s brains are innately dif­fer­ent to straight men’s (this in turn is based on dubi­ous assump­tions about ‘men’ and ‘women’ that are increas­ingly being ques­tioned). The nar­rator told us that Rahman has tested “hun­dreds of les­bian, gay and straight volun­teers” (no bisexu­als, note — and for the pur­poses of this entire doc­u­ment­ary they simply don’t exist) and “can tell if a per­son was born gay or straight, des­pite their cur­rent lifestyle”.

In other words, Rahman is God.

The nar­ra­tion con­tin­ues, cheer­fully telling us:

“Though con­tro­ver­sial, some sci­ent­ists believe that our genes and hor­mones may determ­ine sexu­al­ity before birth and per­son­al­ity traits too. These traits can be tested and this means that Dr Rahman can work out whether or not a per­son was truly born gay.”

Truly born gay.

In other words, Rahman is even big­ger than God. He’s Jeremy Kyle.

(Note how BBC3 throws in a reluct­ant ‘con­tro­ver­sial’ at the begin­ning of the first sen­tence but by the end of the second, know­ing most BBC3 view­ers have already long for­got­ten it, seems to be express­ing noth­ing short of a divine revelation.)

So it was touch­ing to see two people who both fer­vently believe in ‘gay brains’ come together — but unfor­tu­nately for Birch, it wasn’t a mar­riage made in heaven. Rahman talks to Birch about test­ing him to find out “how gay your brain is” (no, really, that’s actu­ally what he says), but was clearly dis­ap­poin­ted with his own res­ults, which showed that half Birch’s responses fell within the ‘nor­mal range’ for a gay man and the other half within the ‘nor­mal range’ of a straight man. Whatever that means.

Birch though is delighted with the res­ults because he sees it as an endorse­ment of his nar­rat­ive of the stroke ‘turn­ing his brain gay’. But Rahman seems set against the idea, des­pite his mixed find­ings. Perhaps this is because for the gay neur­os­cient­ist (who is the author of a book called ‘Born Gay’) the whole point of ‘gay brains’ seems to be that you’re born with them, rather than being some­thing you can acquire, even by acci­dent. Like I said, every­one has their own neces­sary com­ing out fiction.

Birch’s boy­friend, who accom­pan­ied him to the Gay Brain Detector’s lab, seemed to be the only one who had his head screwed on. He was gently scep­tical of his partner’s belief that the stroke made him gay, but was patiently sym­path­etic to the psy­cho­logy of it. “He’s based his whole life on the stroke mak­ing him gay,” he said whilst Birch’s brain was being ‘tested’ for ‘gayness’.

If he wasn’t, it would almost be like hav­ing to start from scratch again.”

Harry Daley: A Beat Poet

I’ve just fin­ished read­ing This Small Cloud, a won­der­ful posthum­ously pub­lished mem­oir by Harry Daley, a London cop­per in the early part of the 20th Century. Daley had a weak­ness, as you do, for young box­ers and gang­sters. And an intol­er­ance for Mosley’s Blackshirts, whom many of his col­leagues sym­path­ised with.

The Bloomsbury nov­el­ist E.M. Forster mean­while had a weak­ness for Daley — they had a some­what one-sided friend­ship. Forster very def­in­itely wasn’t Daley’s ‘type’. I sus­pect the rather timid Forster wasn’t really anyone’s type. He reportedly found Daley ‘wor­ry­ingly indiscreet’.

Daley was a keen observer of London life in the 1920s-40s — and unlike Forster, very much involved with it. Very poorly edu­cated but a keen reader, this son of a Lowestoft fish­er­man lost at sea in 1911 was a vivid, hon­est and enter­tain­ing writer. Open about his ori­ent­a­tion through­out his career in the Metropolitan Police — when any and all sexual con­tact between males was a crim­inal offence — he was both way ahead of his time and also a reminder that the past isn’t really the place we think it is.

Here’s what he had to say about male van­ity on join­ing the Metropolitan Police in 1925:

The instruct­ors were hand-picked and first-rate. Some were rather vain and all the bet­ter for it; van­ity is tire­some only when the per­son pre­tends to be mod­est. Some of my best friends have been kept per­man­ently happy and good-natured by the attract­ive pic­tures con­stantly reflec­ted from their looking-glass; and it must be everyone’s exper­i­ence that attract­ive people are always ready and will­ing to jump into bed to give pleas­ure, whereas one has only to ask the right time of a per­son with bad teeth and pebble glasses, for them to rush off to the tele­phone and dial 999.’

Daley, whom I sus­pect was a little vain him­self, died in 1971. ‘This Small Cloud’ was pub­lished in 1986.

Harry Daley and friends

Tip: Simon-Peter Trimarco

The Last Gay Picture Show

From tor­tured law­yers, drag queens and cow­boys to Mickey Rourke — on the Fiftieth anniversary of Victim the film that star­ted it all, a con­cise his­tory of the birth, boom, and bust of the big gay movie by Mark Simpson (Out magazine).

A tor­tured, be-quiffed Dirk Bogarde, backed into a corner by his wife’s ques­tion­ing, shouts: “I STOPPED SEEING HIM BECAUSE I WANTED HIM! DO YOU UNDERSTAND??”

The up-and-coming bar­ris­ter played by Bogarde in the 1961 clas­sic Victim is com­ing out. In case the audi­ence hasn’t under­stood, his wife, played by a young, pretty and very English Sylvia Syms rams the point home to the audi­ence, scream­ing: “YOU WERE ATTRACTED TO THAT BOY LIKE A MAN IS TO A GIRL!” Strong stuff, for its time.

This was no ordin­ary com­ing out. This was, in fact, the debut of the Big Gay Movie: a form that was to flour­ish for the next half-century but seems to have peaked with the com­mer­cial and crit­ical suc­cess of Brokeback Mountain and Milk in the nought­ies. Fifty years after Bogarde (who was impec­cably dis­creet about his own sexu­al­ity) became the first man to out him­self on the big screen, the gay-themed main­stream movie feels dis­tinctly past its prime.

The first English-language movie to use the word “homo­sexual,” Victim caused a scan­dal in the United Kingdom and was banned in the United States. A plea for sym­pathy and tol­er­ance and also pity for the vic­tims of “nature’s cruel trick,” it was inten­ded to change atti­tudes and the law: Any sexual con­tact between males was illegal in the U.K. at the time. Six years later, in 1967, homo­sexu­al­ity was decrim­in­al­ized — and Victim was cred­ited with help­ing bring that about.

It also became the gay movie tem­plate for dec­ades to come. That tem­plate typ­ic­ally con­sists of four melo­dra­matic parts: the closet, com­ing out, homo­pho­bia, and… uplift! And like Victim, gay movies also ten­ded to dis­play a slightly con­des­cend­ing yen to edu­cate the ignor­ant masses out of their pre­ju­dices, while sim­ul­tan­eously cater­ing to their curi­os­ity and voyeur­ism about this curi­ous new spe­cies, The Homosexual.

By the end of the ’60s, America had begun to get over its shock at hear­ing the word “homo­sexual” and along came The Boys in the Band, the U.S.’s first Big Gay Movie, one that invoked the h-word repeatedly — as a con­di­tion one had to reluct­antly accept. “You will always be homo­sexual…. Always, Michael. Always. Until the day you die.” Like VictimThe Boys in the Band eli­cited sym­pathy and pity for homos, not least for the impress­ive amount of self-loathing they dis­play. As one of the ““boys” says toward the end of a night­mare party that isn’t very gay at all: “If only we could stop hat­ing ourselves so much.”

But the movie was already ser­i­ously dated by the time it made it to the screen — the Stonewall riots had exploded the year before, and the homos were no longer cry­ing into their mar­tinis. Instead, they were throw­ing Molotov cock­tails and shout­ing about “gay pride.” Gay act­iv­ists had over­turned the notion of the gay passivist.

By con­trast, five years later The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) was entirely of the moment – and time­less. Still strut­ting it’s fish­net­ted stuff to this day, the longest-running the­at­rical release in movie his­tory is the least dated, most rel­ev­ant gay movie ever made — per­haps because it’s not really gay at all. There is no plea for sym­pathy or tol­er­ance, no con­des­cen­sion, no moral uplift. Not even gay polit­ics or pride. It’s just a really fuck­ing great party to which every­one is invited. Even Brad and Janet. It’s pan­sexual sci­ence fic­tion that pre­dicts a post­sexual future in which queer­ness would no longer be an issue — because every­one was going to be a little bit Frankenfurter.

Cruising, released in 1980 and pick­eted by angry gay act­iv­ists at the time for its “homo­pho­bia,” also proved proph­etic, but night­mar­ishly so. Al Pacino plays a straight New York cop assigned to invest­ig­ate a series of murders of gay men by join­ing the city’s gay leather S&M scene — but finds him­self, like the 1970s itself, strangely drawn to the gay world. But the gay serial killer stalk­ing the streets of New York City turned out, of course, to be HIV. The “gay plague” of the 1980s and the right-wing mor­al­istic back­lash on both sides of the Atlantic stopped the sexual revolu­tion in its tracks and firmly quar­ant­ined gay from straight.

In this cli­mate of fear and hatred, Maurice (1987), ostens­ibly an adapt­a­tion of the E. M. Forster novel of the same name, seemed almost like a rerun of Victim—but this time with some actual sex thrown in. James Wilby, strug­gling fetch­ingly with Edwardian repres­sion, is told sol­emnly by a sym­path­etic con­fid­ante: “England has always been dis­in­clined to accept human nature.”

Tom Hanks’s dying, closeted gay law­yer in 1993’s Philadelphia, released just before com­bin­a­tion ther­apy gal­loped to the res­cue, is a grim gay melo­drama that won him an Oscar. But it wasn’t long before feel-good and fab­ulous films swished into view: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Beautiful Thing (1996), and The Birdcage (1996), the highest-grossing LGBT-related film ever released in North America. They were cel­eb­rat­ory, destig­mat­iz­ing films about com­ing out and tak­ing on homo­pho­bia — but in order to keep the now-familiar gay movie themes sound­ing fresh, they had to be set prefer­ably in a pub­lic hous­ing pro­ject or in the Australian out­back. In drag.

By the nought­ies, gay movies had to resort to time travel to sus­tain the pathos. Brokeback Mountain (2005), Milk(2008), and A Single Man (2009) were all gay cos­tume dra­mas, set in an age when homo­pho­bia was a life-and-death issue — and the gay movie wasn’t an exhausted form.

Fittingly, the end of the last dec­ade also saw the release of I Love You Phillip Morris, with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as unlikely jail­bird lov­ers. It’s breez­ily cas­ual about homo­sexu­al­ity — we see Carrey nois­ily bug­ger­ing a man in the first few minutes of the film — and it refuses to offer the usual uplift or mor­al­iz­ing. The AIDS death scene at the end of the movie, in which the con man played by Carrey cheats death, is an aston­ish­ing rebut­tal to the mawk­ish­ness of Philadelphia. Our gay anti­hero lives, but in a sense the gay movie dies.

And not a moment too soon. One of last year’s most acclaimed movies, The Kids Are All Right, only handles homo­sexu­al­ity obliquely, as though the topic has become passé. It’s a con­ven­tional Hollywood break-up-to-make-up romantic com­edy with some less con­ven­tional comic details — such as sperm donors and les­bian cun­ni­lin­gus to gay porn. A same-sex couple faith­fully repro­duces the het­ero­sexual mono­gam­ous nuc­lear fam­ily and its neur­oses. Or as The Christian Science Monitor put it, the “fam­ily com­plic­a­tions in The Kids Are All Right are almost reas­sur­ingly recog­niz­able.” Sexuality isn’t the issue of the movie (which could have been called The Kids Are All Straight). Normality is. Gays as a spe­cies just aren’t ter­ribly inter­est­ing anymore.

But per­haps the greatest proof of the genre’s demise may prove to be Mickey Rourke’s strenu­ous attempt to revive it. The 58-year-old plastic sur­gery devotee is cur­rently mak­ing and star­ring in a biopic about 36-year-old gay British rugby star Gareth Thomas. Rourke read Thomas’s story of com­ing out in Sports Illustrated. “To be a man who plays rugby who is gay and to live with that secret for the amount of years that Gareth had… it takes a lot of cour­age,” he said recently. Rourke is clearly drawn to Thomas’s tale because it rep­res­ents the final fron­tier of the Hollywood coming-out story: a gay guy in the gritty man’s man world of pro rugby. You can see the pitch: another Brokeback Mountain, but with com­munal baths, even more sheep, and a hap­pier ending.

True, Thomas’s bio­graphy does offer plenty of con­ven­tional gay movie plot lines: While closeted, he prayed to be straight; upon com­ing out he dealt with an inev­it­able divorce from his wife. But Thomas him­self is clear that he doesn’t want the film to be about his sexu­al­ity: “I don’t want to be known as a gay rugby player,” he said. “I am a rugby player first and fore­most.” Adding, some­what unne­ces­sar­ily, “I am a man.”

In other words, he doesn’t want it to be a gay movie. And who can blame him? After all, it’s one thing to be played by a 58-year-old Hollywood actor when you’re still in your 30s. But it’s quite another to be trapped inside a 50-year-old and now defunct movie form.