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.


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.


The End of Heterosexuality (As We’ve Known It)

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:

    1. As more gay people come out more straight people get to per­son­ally know gay people which makes it more dif­fi­cult to discriminate.
    2. Men may be becom­ing more ‘egal­it­arian’ in gen­eral, partly thanks to feminism.
    3. 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 on them­selves 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 con­tinuüm 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

Why Straight Soldiers Can’t Stop Acting Gay on Video

Way back in the last cen­tury, before the Interweb swal­lowed everything, my friend and accom­plice in lit­er­ary crime Steve Zeeland were vis­it­ing, as you do, Camp Pendleton, the giant US Marine Corps base in Southern California with some jar­head friends.

We spent the after­noon watch­ing the Marine Rodeo — scores of grin­ning fit Texan boys in tight Wranglers and high-and-tights boun­cing up and down on bron­cos and slap­ping each other’s butts. Perhaps you’ll under­stand why, after hav­ing seen this, the Details fash­ion shoot that was Brokeback Mountain left me cold.

We then headed to the enlis­ted men’s club for a much-needed and, I’d like to think, well-earned drink. While we were there, some Marines came in from a week’s exer­cise in the field, still in their com­bats, cam­ou­flage paint still on their young sun­burned faces. They were in high spir­its, enjoy­ing their first beer of the week, and when the DJ played the open­ing fan­fare of The Village People’s ‘YMCA’, like Pavlovs’ dogs they instantly and instinct­ively under­stood what was required of them.

They flocked onto the dance-floor, scram­bling to outdo one another in their 1970s disco dance moves, and joy­ously spelling out the let­ters of the camp clas­sic extolling the pleas­ures of get­ting clean and hanging out with all the bo-oys. ‘Hey buddy,’ one jar­head shouted to me, slap­ping me on the shoulder and grin­ning in my face, ‘you hav­ing a good time?’

Oh yes.

At this point Steve pro­duced his mid 1990s, large, cum­ber­some and very, very obvi­ous cam­corder and star­ted film­ing the jar­head hi-jinks. ‘Steve,’ I hissed in his ear, palms moisten­ing. ‘Don’t you think this might, er, get us into trouble?’

We escaped unscathed — though we did hear reports a year or two later that the Commandant of Camp Pendleton had ordered, like an angry Old Testament God, that enlis­ted men’s club be razed to the ground because it was ‘a cesspit of sodomy’.

I needn’t have wor­ried about Steve’s cam­cord­ing. But the Commandant did have reason to worry — and his Biblical efforts proved in vain. In just a few years time, mil­it­ary boys would be enthu­si­ast­ic­ally film­ing them­selves act­ing way ‘gayer’ than dan­cing to YMCA — and post­ing it on YouTube for the entire world to see.

You’ve prob­ably already seen the video trib­ute to Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ made by US sol­diers in Afghanistan, which has gone vir­u­lently viral.  It’s part of a well-established craze by dusty, bored and stressed mil­it­ary boys let­ting off steam, tak­ing time out from buttoned-down mas­cu­line norms and chan­nel­ling a little glam­our instead. Having a scream, in other words. But the fact they are video­ing it and put­ting on YouTube sug­gests that, like most like most young people in a medi­ated world, they want to draw atten­tion to themselves.

Way back in the Twenieth Century again I wrote, only slightly tongue in cheek: ‘The prob­lem with straight men is they’re repressed. The prob­lem with gay men is they’re not.’ In the met­ro­sexual 21st Century I think it’s pretty clear that even straight sol­diers aren’t that repressed any more.  While of course gays are get­ting mar­ried and becom­ing Tory MPs.

I don’t know about you, but the scene where the sol­diers are stand­ing around admir­ing one another’s home-made House of Gaga out­fits will stay with me forever. There’s some­thing about Lady Gaga that seems to make funny, flam­ing flam­boy­ance — Gagacity - irres­ist­ible to men, women, chil­dren, civil­ians and sol­diers and small anim­als. Gay or straight.

Quite rightly, hardly any­one has sug­ges­ted that these sol­diers being hyper and hil­ari­ously camp are ‘really gay’. Some might be, of course. But their appear­ance in a video of this kind doesn’t prove any such thing. Even the gay-banning US Army put out a state­ment approv­ing the video, or at least try­ing to exploit its popularity.

Compare this with what happened a few years back when it emerged that some US sol­diers had been ‘act­ing gay’ on video for private con­sump­tion rather than YouTube. Gay porn videos made by a com­pany called ActiveDuty. A global scan­dal errup­ted and sev­eral young sol­diers were arres­ted, courts mar­tialed, fined and dis­hon­our­ably dis­charged.  A lot of people — par­tic­u­larly gays — seemed con­vinced that the sol­diers ‘must’ all be gay because they appeared in such videos. When in fact many did it like the sol­diers in the ‘Telephone’ video — for giggles, for fun, for a dare. And, in this case, also for the not incon­sid­er­able sums money they were paid.

Like the dis­charged sol­dier said to the shell-shocked wait­ress who recog­nised him from the ActiveDuty web­site and deman­ded to know how he could have done such a thing: ‘It was no big deal. And besides, I got paid.’

If you think my com­par­ison far-fetched, con­sider that the sol­diers courts mar­tialed for ‘act­ing gay’ on video (Certificate 18) were para­troop­ers in the 82nd Airborne based in Fort Bragg. The same élite unit that the chaps ‘act­ing gay’ in the ‘Telephone’ video (PG) are from.

The latest YouTube video of sol­diers ‘act­ing gay’ called ‘The Army Goes Gay’ (below) has been curi­ously claimed by some gay blogs as an example of straight sol­diers ‘ridicul­ing’ Dont’ Ask Don’t Tell.  There isn’t really any evid­ence for this read­ing how­ever — and in fact it could be more eas­ily read as an endorse­ment of the ‘Gay Bomb’ fears of the Pentagon. Almost cer­tainly it doesn’t have any  mes­sage at all.

It’s just sol­diers being silly and naughty. And ‘gay’.

The Tories’ New Section 28

by Mark Simpson (Guardian CIF, 25 March 2010)

Whatever happened to the Tory party of the 1980s that refused to use tax­pay­ers’ money to prop up fail­ing indus­tries mak­ing things people didn’t want? That told us sternly, usu­ally in a hel­met of hair-lacquer, “the mar­ket must decide”?

It turns out the Tories aren’t so laissez-faire if the mar­ket makes a decision they don’t approve of – par­tic­u­larly when punters turn their backs on one of their most cher­ished insti­tu­tions. With fewer people get­ting mar­ried now than at any time since records began in 1862, the Tories – who des­pite what they say about free mar­kets, always seem to know best how people should live their lives – have decided to effect­ively take this failed enter­prise into pub­lic ownership.

This week­end a former Tory MP from the 1980s, who con­siders him­self cul­tur­ally pro­gress­ive, came out in sup­port of David Cameron’s prom­ised tax breaks for mar­ried couples. “From this day for­ward, reward mar­ried couples” announced Matthew Parris in the Times. He failed, how­ever, to explain why mar­ried couples should be “rewar­ded” – as well as given wed­ding presents. But then DavidCameron hasn’t explained that one either.

But the article’s stand­first suc­cinctly sum­mar­ised both Parris’ and the Tory pos­i­tion, and made it clear why an explan­a­tion isn’t neces­sary: “Everyone except a sour minor­ity knows that mar­riage is good for soci­ety”. Marriage is good for soci­ety because it is a “good thing” in and of itself – as such it doesn’t need to be demon­strated, even at a time when mar­riage is less pop­u­lar than ever. Marriage is, for most Tories, an art­icle of faith. And any­one who dis­agrees with this pos­i­tion or even ques­tions it is obvi­ously sour or leftwing, which amounts to much the same thing.

What made Parris’ sup­port of this tax on unmar­ried people (for that is of course what it trans­lates into) novel was his inter­est­ing claim to speak on behalf of the vast major­ity of gay people: “an aston­ish­ingly con­ser­vat­ive sec­tion of soci­ety”, com­mend­ing their “tra­di­tion­al­ism”, warn­ing the (pre­sumed het­ero­sexual and con­ser­vat­ive) reader who begs to dif­fer they’ve been pay­ing too much atten­tion to a “sour slim minor­ity”, and assert­ing gays’ over­whelm­ing endorse­ment of the pro­posed sub­sidy for mar­ried couples. Parris even went a step fur­ther than Cameron and called for civil part­ner­ships to be excluded from the “reward” – per­haps because being fam­ously gay him­self, Parris can’t be eas­ily accused of homophobia.

Now, maybe I’m just a sour lefty minor­ity homo of exactly the kind that Parris warns you against, but at least I know bet­ter than to pre­sume to speak on gay men’s behalf – espe­cially when it comes to count­ing your­self out of tax breaks. But since Parris has raised the mat­ter of sexu­al­ity, I feel obliged, like the bad fairy at the wed­ding, to point out where this policy is com­ing from: essen­tially the same bit of the Nasty Party that brought you Section 28 in the 1980s, with its jihad on “pre­ten­ded fam­ily rela­tion­ships”, though it is now much more closeted.

Section 28, you may remem­ber, is the same anti-gay law that the main cham­pion of the Tory mar­riage sub­sidy, the Catholic con­vert Iain Duncan Smith, wanted to rein­state in 2002 when he was Tory leader. This piece of legis­la­tion grew dir­ectly out of Tory and tabloid fears that mar­riage was being under­mined by accept­ance of homo­sexu­al­ity. Section 28 was essen­tially a nan­nyish back­lash against the scan­dal­ous notion that schools might tell young people they have choices about who and how they were going to love.

Now that “pre­ten­ded fam­ily rela­tion­ships” – straight and gay and everything in between – are prob­ably in the major­ity and Section 28 is a dis­cred­ited, embar­rass­ing memory, Holy Family Tories such as IDS have to adopt a dif­fer­ent, “nicer” approach – one that seems more car­rot than stick, more util­it­arian and less homo­phobic. But don’t doubt for a minute that one of the biggest attrac­tions of what we should prob­ably call “Section 29″ for the IDS tend­ency is that tax breaks for married/decent people is a sat­is­fy­ing way of stick­ing it to unmarried/indecent people.

Tories, par­tic­u­lar the older ones who make up the major­ity of the party’s aging mem­ber­ship and who give IDS his power base, have never really recon­ciled them­selves to the massive cul­tural changes that happened post-1960s – and which were much accel­er­ated by their mar­ket and con­sumer reforms in the 1980s. For all her “Victorian val­ues”, Broken Britain was broken in large part by Thatcher. I doubt that Cameron believes for a minute that his Terry and June sub­sidy will turn back the clock and make mar­riage or Austin Allegros fash­ion­able again, and he prob­ably doesn’t really want to any­way, but it’s nice that he’s figured out a way to buy off the IDS tend­ency that so dis­trusts him and what they see as his cul­tural lib­er­al­ism – with tax­pay­ers’ money.

I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Parris though. It can’t have been easy being a gay Tory MP in the 1980s – at least if you had, as I’m sure he has, a con­science. But it seems that all his futile attempts to con­vince his Cro-Magnon col­leagues back then that most gays are nat­ural Tories and wor­ship­pers of the Holy Family des­pite their pen­chant for bug­gery has taken its toll. He now believes his own rhetoric.

Quentin Crisp & Hurtian Crisp

The Naked Civil Servant is the best and fun­ni­est TV drama ever made. And I’m sorry, but it’s a sci­entific fact.

And like its sub­ject it could only have been made in the UK.  Even if Crisp said he hated England — and he did, over and over again.

So many lines in Philip Mackie’s superb screen­play for the Thames TV adapt­a­tion glit­ter like, well, the icy aph­or­isms that Crisp filled his eponym­ous auto­bi­o­graphy with. But it was Hurt’s break­through per­form­ance as Crisp which is most his­toric: ren­der­ing Crisp, as Quentin him­self acknow­ledged — and wel­comed — some­thing of an under­study to Hurt’s Crisp for the rest of his life.

The actual, quasi-existing Crisp, born Dennis Charles Pratt in Sutton, Surrey in 1908, some­times soun­ded by this stage (he was nearly 70 when the drama aired) like a vin­tage car tyre los­ing air ve-ry slow-ly. And was almost as immob­ile. Hetero dandy Hurt injec­ted a kind of rak­ish­ness – a hint of phal­li­cism, even – to Crisp’s defi­antly passsss­ive perssss­sona that came across rather more invig­or­at­ing and sexy than he actu­ally was. Hurt rendered Crisp rock ‘n’ roll when he prob­ably wasn’t even up for a waltz. When Hurt repeatedly intoned Crisp’s Zen-like answer to the world and Other People and Desire in gen­eral – ‘If you like’ – it soun­ded slightly more aggress­ive than passive.

(And for me, Hurtian Crisp was fur­ther improved and made edgier by what I shall call Hoyleian-Hurtian Crisp: I met the per­form­ance artist David Hoyle in the early 80s when we were both teen­age run­aways to London’s bedsit-land. He would per­form key moments from TNCS mid con­ver­sa­tion about the weather or who was on Top of the Pops last night, adding a dash of David Bowie and Bette Davis to the mix. David always suc­ceeded in mak­ing these impromptu excerpts sound as if they were flash­backs to his earlier life. Which, since he grew up a sens­it­ive boy in work­ing class Blackpool in the 1970s watch­ing a lot of telly, they were.)

TNCS, both the book and the dram­at­isa­tion, is crim­in­ally funny pre­cisely because so much of what Hurt/Crisp says/declaims is so shock­ingly true.

The line whispered del­ic­ately in the ear of the leader of a 1930s queerbash­ing gang is now almost a cliché, but still has hil­ari­ous force: ‘“If I were you I’d bug­ger off back to Hoxton before they work out you’re queer.” Some toughs are really queer, and some queers are really tough. Crisp’s truths, par­tic­u­larly about human rela­tion­ships, are the truths told by someone who has noth­ing to lose – largely because they’ve already lost everything to the bailiffs of des­pair. This is the ‘naked­ness’ of the Civil Servant.

Because it was one of the first TV dra­mas to depict a self-confessed and unapo­lo­getic — flaunt­ing, even — homo­sexual TNCS has been fre­quently mis­rep­res­en­ted as a ‘gay drama’. But Crisp’s sexu­al­ity is not really what TNCS is about – or in fact what Crisp was about.

To a degree it is about being ‘out and proud’, or at least determ­ined to inflict one­self on the world, but not so much as a homo­sexual, and cer­tainly not as ‘a gay’, in the mod­ern, respect­able, American sense of the word. It’s not even, thank­fully, a plea for tol­er­ance. Rather it’s a por­trayal of the heroic self-sufficiency of someone who decided to stand apart from soci­ety and its val­ues, henna their hair and work as a male street pros­ti­tute – and then, lying bruised in the gut­ter, turn a haughty, unsen­ti­mental but pier­cingly funny eye back on a world which regards him as the low­est form of life. It’s the black­est and cheeki­est kind of com­edy — which is to say: the only kind.

I am an effem­in­ate homo-sex-u-alll’, declared Crisp to the Universe, over and over again. And the Universe had no choice but to agree. By being utterly abject Crisp forced the Universe to do pre­cisely as he instruc­ted. A blue­print for celebrity that was to be repeated many, many times by oth­ers before his death in 1999 and even more times after — though usu­ally rather less wit­tily and with less jaunty headgear.

Crisp added that as an effem­in­ate homo­sexual he was imprisoned inside an exquis­ite para­dox, like some kind of ancient insect trapped in amber: attrac­ted to mas­cu­line males – the fam­ous Great Dark Man – he can­not him­self be attrac­ted to a man who finds him, another male, attract­ive because then they can­not be The Great Dark Man any more. Hence the fam­ous, Death-of-God declar­a­tion in TNCS, after many, many mis­haps and mis­recog­ni­tions: ’“There. Is. No. Great. Dark. Man!”’

Strictly 19th cen­tury sex­olo­gic­ally speak­ing, Mr Crisp was prob­ably more of a male invert than a homo­sexual and often said that he thought that he should have been a woman, and even wondered whether he was born inter­sexed (this des­pite fam­ously dis­miss­ing women as ‘speak­ing a lan­guage I do not under­stand’ — per­haps because he didn’t like too much com­pet­i­tion in the speak­ing stakes). Either way, he doesn’t appear to have been ter­ribly happy with his penis or even its exist­ence – some­thing homo­sexual males, like het­ero­sexual ones, are usu­ally deli­ri­ous about. But then again, per­haps rather than express­ing some kind of  proto-transsexuality Quentin’s Great Dark Man com­plex was merely set­ting up a situ­ation in which he could remain ever faith­ful to his one true love. Himself.

In Thames TV’s TNCS, which begins (at Crisp’s request) with a pretty, pre-pubescent boy as Quentin/Dennis dan­cing in a dress in front of a full-length mir­ror, Hurtian Crisp is an out-and-proud nar­ciss­ist, who simply refuses to take on board the shame that such an out­rageous per­ver­sion should entail. When he attempts to join the Army at the start of the war he causes apo­plexy in the recruit­ers for being com­pletely hon­est about his reas­ons for doing so: he doesn’t mouth plat­it­udes about ‘doing his duty’, ‘his bit’ or ‘fight­ing Nazis’. He just wants to eat prop­erly and the squad­dies he knows seem to have quite a nice time of it, load­ing and unload­ing pet­rol cans in Basingstoke. His open­ness about his homo­sexu­al­ity is palp­ably less shock­ing to the Army offi­cials than his hon­esty about his self-interestedness. About his interest in himself.

Or as Hurt/Crisp replies as a preen­ing adoles­cent youth when asked by his exas­per­ated, buttoned-up Edwardian petite-bourgeois father: ‘Do you intend to admire your­self in the mir­ror forever??’

If I pos­sibly can.’

And boy, did he. TNCS, which aired slap in the middle of the 70s, was prob­ably more of an inspir­a­tion to the glam, punk, new-wave and new romantic gen­er­a­tion than to gays in gen­eral. Hurtian Crisp and his hen­naed hair and make-up sash­ay­ing the streets of 1930s London sym­bol­ised in the 1970s the idea of an aes­thet­i­cized revolt against Victorian ideas of proper deport­ment and dull­ness that had dom­in­ated Britain for much of the Twentieth Century. The best British pop music had always been a form of aes­thetic revolt, and Crisp seemed very much his own spe­cial cre­ation, which is what so many teens now aspired to be. Crisp was taken for a real ori­ginal and indi­vidual in an age when every­one wanted to be ori­ginal and indi­vidual. Or as Crisp put it him­self later:

The young always have the same prob­lem – how to rebel and con­form at the same time. They have now solved this by defy­ing their par­ents and copy­ing one another.’

TNCS changed Crisp’s life and made him very fam­ous indeed. A real­ity TV win­ner before such a thing exis­ted, his prize was the chance to move to America. Since he had loved Hollywood movies from child­hood and was later treated like a Hollywood star­let (albeit in air raid shel­ters) by American GI’s in London dur­ing the Second World War, no won­der he grabbed the oppor­tun­ity with both hands.

But if there’s any­thing to be learned from An Englishman in New York, the sequel to TNCS broad­cast on ITV recently, it’s that it may all have been a ter­rible mis­take. Even if Mr Crisp never thought so.

Although Hurt turns in a tech­nic­ally fine per­form­ance, he seems to have become more Crispian and less Hurtian. Perhaps that’s inev­it­able with the pas­sage of time (Hurt is nearly 70, the age Crisp was when he first played him). Or per­haps it’s simply that his act­ing skills have increased. Whatever the reason, it’s not a wel­come devel­op­ment here. And I’m sure Crisp would have agreed.

But much, much worse is the redempt­ive reek of this sequel. Everything is made to turn on Crisp’s ‘AIDS {upper case back then, remem­ber} is a fad’ quip made in the early 80s and the trouble this got him into in the US – and why he was a good sort, really. Despite the things he actu­ally said. So we see him adopt a gay artist dying of the ‘fad’, fuss­ing over him and arran­ging for his art to be exhib­ited. We dis­cover him send­ing secret cheques to Liz Taylor’s Aids found­a­tion. We even hear him explain what he meant by ‘fad’ (sup­posedly it was a polit­ical tac­tic: min­im­ize the gay plague to avoid a hetero backlash).

Now, this obses­sion with redemp­tion may be very American and has of course, like many American obses­sions, become more of an English one of late – espe­cially when try­ing to sell some­thing to the Yanks, as I’m sure the pro­du­cers of this sequel are hop­ing to do. But if there was any point to Crisp at all it was that he was utterly unsen­ti­mental – except where roy­alty were con­cerned – and rel­at­ively free of the hypo­cris­ies of every­day life.  This sequel sup­posedly about him is full of them. So for­give me if I’m unconvinced.

Crisp was invin­cible in his determ­in­a­tion to regard the US as the dream­land of the movies of his youth made real: America was as he put it ‘Heaven’ where England was ‘Hell’. And why not? If you’ve spent most of your best years deprived of almost every single illu­sion that com­forts most other people, why shouldn’t you have one big one in your retirement?

And to be fair much of what he had to say about the friend­li­ness and flat­ter­ing, encour­aging, open-hearted nature of Americans com­pared to the mean-minded, resent­ful, vin­dict­ive English is quite true, even today. But Crisp’s whole approach to life was even more at odds with American cul­ture, even in its atyp­ical NYC form, with its emphasis on self-improvement, aspir­a­tion, uplift and suc­cess. ‘If at first you don’t suc­ceed, fail­ure may be your style,’ said Crisp, who regarded him­self as a total fail­ure. Could there be a more un-American world­view? Apart that is from, “Don’t try to keep up with the Jones.  Try to drag them down to your level.  It’s cheaper.”

In an early doc­u­ment­ary from the 1960s Crisp, sit­ting in his London bed-sitting room sip­ping an unap­pet­iz­ing powdered drink he takes instead of pre­par­ing food, which he can’t be bothered with, that ‘has all the vit­am­ins and pro­tein I need but tastes awful’ he describes him­self as a Puritan.  Actually Crisp was a Puritan with an added frost­ing of asceti­cism. Crisp was deeply sus­pi­cious of all pleas­ure (save the pleas­ure of being listened to and looked at) and most espe­cially of sex, which he described as ‘the last refuge of the miser­able’. And four years of house dust is a very good way of show­ing how above the mater­ial world you are.

It’s a very middle class, middle England, middle cen­tury Puritanism – just like Crisp’s back­ground. But Crisp was also his own kind of revenge on him­self, or on the world that had made him — of which he was a liv­ing par­ody. Ultimately none of us are really our own spe­cial cre­ations. The most we can hope for is a spe­cial edition.

Crisp’s Puritanism was part of the reason why he could never embrace Gay Lib (‘what do you want to be lib­er­ated from?’). He was recently sub­jec­ted to a stern posthum­ous tick­ing off by Peter Tatchell, an ori­ginal Gay Libber, in the Independent news­pa­per promp­ted by what he sees as the ‘san­it­ising of Crisp’s ignor­ant pom­pous homo­pho­bia’ in An Englishman in New York. Post-60s Crisp was appar­ently jeal­ous of a new gen­er­a­tion of out queers who were steal­ing his limel­ite: he wasn’t the only homo in town any more.

This broad­side was a tad harsh, and Tatchell some­times sounds as if he’s on the Army board that rejec­ted Crisp (while accus­ing him of ‘homo­pho­bia’ threatens to make an absurdity of the word). But I agree that the sequel does ‘san­it­ise’ Crisp, though I think this a bad thing for dif­fer­ent reas­ons to Mr Tatchell. I also sus­pect there’s some truth to the accus­a­tion of ‘jeal­ousy’, but I’d be inclined to put them in another form. Maybe Crisp didn’t want homo­sexu­al­ity to be nor­m­al­ised because if it were it would undo his life’s work. Likewise, I think Crisp would have loathed met­ro­sexu­al­ity.

And as the sequel sug­gests, in one of its few insight­ful moments, one reason for Crisp’s fail­ure to answer the gay clarion call was simply that he didn’t believe in causes, or the sub­jug­a­tion of truth and dress-sense to expedi­ency that inev­it­ably goes with causes. Unless that cause is yourself.

Besides, like many ‘inverts’, Crisp was a great and romantic believer in Heterosexuality — the ideal kind, of course, rather than the kind that het­ero­sexu­als actu­ally have to live, and which they execute very, very badly.  He used to call het­ero­sexu­als ‘real people’ (as opposed to ‘unreal’ homo­sexu­als), but I sus­pect he thought he was the only real het­ero­sexual in town. And in a sense, he was.


I can’t leave you without point­ing out that while Quentin Crisp may have dis­missed Aids as a ‘fad’, Hurtian Crisp became more asso­ci­ated with ‘the gay plague’ than almost any­one save Rock Hudson: lit­er­ally becom­ing the sound of the ser­i­ous­ness of the sub­ject. In 1975 hetero Hurt plays the most fam­ous stately homo in England. The suc­cess of this gets him to Hollywood, where four years later in 1979 he is cast in an even more glob­ally fam­ous role — as ‘Patient Zero’ in Ridley Scott’s Alien: the first host for the ter­ri­fy­ing unknown organ­ism that enters his body by face-raping him and which pro­ceeds to kill-off in hor­ri­fy­ing, phallic-jackhammer fash­ion, his ship­mates. Two years before the first iden­ti­fied Aids cases in NY.

Eight years later, Hurt was the unfor­get­table fey-gravelly voice for those ter­ri­fy­ing tomb­stone ‘AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance’ ads (com­plete with jack­ham­mers) that ran in heavy rota­tion on UK TV, urging people to read the Government leaf­let pushed through their let­ter­box and prac­tise safe sex.

In other words, The Naked Civil Servant had become a rubber-sheathed civil servant.

Old Spice: inter­view Crisp gave Andrew Barrow of the Independent a year before his death.


  • In an expand­ing uni­verse, time is on the side of the out­cast. Those who once inhab­ited the sub­urbs of human con­tempt find that without chan­ging their address they even­tu­ally live in the metropolis.
  • It is not the simple state­ment of facts that ush­ers in free­dom; it is the con­stant repe­ti­tion of them that has this lib­er­at­ing effect. Tolerance is the res­ult not of enlight­en­ment, but of boredom.
  • To know all is not to for­give all. It is to des­pise everybody.
  • You fall out of your mother’s womb, you crawl across open coun­try under fire, and drop into your grave.
  • I simply haven’t the nerve to ima­gine a being, a force, a cause which keeps the plan­ets revolving in their orbits and then sud­denly stops in order to give me a bicycle with three speeds.
  • It is explained that all rela­tion­ships require a little give and take. This is untrue. Any part­ner­ship demands that we give and give and give and at the last, as we flop into our graves exhausted, we are told that we didn’t give enough.
  • The con­sum­ing desire of most human beings is delib­er­ately to place their entire life in the hands of some other per­son. For this pur­pose they fre­quently choose someone who doesn’t even want the beastly thing.
  • The simplest com­ment on my book came from my bal­let teacher. She said, “I wish you hadn’t made every line funny.  It’s so depressing.”
  • Even a mono­ton­ously undevi­at­ing path of self-examination does not neces­sar­ily lead to self-knowledge. I stumble towards my grave con­fused and hurt and hungry.
  • Someone asked me why I thought sex was a sin. I said, “She’s jok­ing, isn’t she?” But they said, “No.” Doesn’t every­one know that sex is a sin? All pleas­ure is a sin.

Edmund White’s Vulgar Fag-ism

I’ve always liked Edmund White’s refusal to get with the con­tem­por­ary gay hypo­crisy pro­gram and shrew­ishly con­demn promis­cu­ity in the hope that this will deliver lots and lots of wed­ding presents.

In con­trast to that pas­teur­ised movie Milk, which lied shame­lessly about gay men’s sex lives in the 1970s to make it easier for them to lie about their sex lives today, White, a vet­eran gay-libber who first star­ted lib­bing around that time – in bath-houses, back rooms and along the piers – insists on telling it as it was, gen­ital warts and all.

That said, I’ve fre­quently found his work to be insuf­fer­ably gay­ist. Edmund is a five star, old school gay chau­vin­ist – so lit­er­ally fuck­ing proud to be gay and so obsessed with ‘com­ing out’ (and attack­ing those that refuse to join his party) that some­times I just want to slap him.

Which is why I laughed out loud when frail old Gore Vidal, vet­eran dis­senter from the ortho­dox­ies of sexual iden­tity polit­ics, recently reached out of his wheel­chair and did just that, repeatedly, in The London Times. Asked about White’s fic­tion­al­ised por­trayal of Vidal’s letter-writing rela­tion­ship with the Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh in the play ‘Terre Haute’, The Gore lam­basted White for por­tray­ing him as ‘another queen’, only writ­ing about how ‘being a fag is the greatest thing on Earth’ and – in a fant­astic phrase that will stay with White forever, like an immor­tal red hand­print on the side of his face  – “vul­gar fag-ism”.

Probably it was the ‘vul­gar’ part that stung White most (his prose, espe­cially the earlier efforts, some­times looks as if it’s been fis­ted by a thesaurus) and pro­voked the bitchy response in an inter­view in Salon this week (‘Edmund White comes out swinging’).  Ed describes Gore as a ‘nasty, awful man’, claims sor­row­fully to have tried to help him in the past by invit­ing him to din­ner to intro­duce him to ‘cute boys’, very kindly reminds us of his great age, the fact that he’s wheelchair-bound, his alco­hol­ism, his loss a few years ago of his life-long com­pan­ion. Practically spelling it out for us in a campy stage whis­per: Bitter. Old. Queen.

But appar­ently this isn’t enough. He also tells us that Vidal is a ‘com­plete lun­atic’ and that ‘it doesn’t bother me what he says about me.’ Yes, dear, but if it doesn’t, why go on so? And on, and on….

I don’t know what he’s fam­ous for any­where, really, because I think those his­tor­ical nov­els are com­plete works of taxi­dermy. Nobody can read those. “Myra Breckinridge” was funny but light. The essays are what every­body defends — but a friend of mine who did a volume of the best essays of the 20th cen­tury said they’re all so top­ical that they’ve all aged ter­ribly. I don’t know where his work is.’

Ed, sweetie. Even if everything that you and your ter­ribly import­ant lit­er­ary friends have to say about that ‘nasty awful man’ were true, bit­ter old alco­holic crippled Gore would still be ten times the writer you are.

And, oh, about 100 times the man.

Mark Simpson Talks About Sporno Packets in Berlin

Yours truly will be giv­ing talk on ‘Sporno: How sport got into bed with gay porn — with Mr Armani tak­ing pic­tures ’ in Berlin on Thursday 18th June — i.e. tomor­row — at 8pm at the Dorrie * Priess Gallery (details below), cour­tesy of Manner-Magazin, CSD and Queer Nations.  It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

It will be richly illustrated.

Sorry for the very tardy notice.…

Dörrie * Priess Berlin
Ulrich Dörrie / Holger Priess
Yorckstr. 89 a
D-10965 Berlin
Tel. (+49) 030/ 7889 5533

Respectability is the New Closet

Walk-in-closets-18By Mark Simpson (shorter ver­sion ori­gin­ally appeared on Guardian CIF, June 2009)

The more things a man is ashamed of’, wrote George Bernard Shaw, ‘the more respect­able he is.’ Gays must now be ter­ribly respect­able since, forty years on from the Stonewall riots star­ted by drag queens, hust­lers and home­less youths high on drugs — out­siders with noth­ing to lose — gays have moved up in the world, become middle-aged and promptly found plenty of things to be ashamed of.

Like all arriv­istes, and like Shaw’s most fam­ous cre­ation Eliza Doolittle, they’re par­tic­u­larly ashamed of their past.

Stonewall itself was recently ‘upgraded’ to ‘Stonewall 2.0′ — the name given the cur­rent wave of gay mar­riage act­iv­ism. Which is a bit like updat­ing ‘Querelle’ into ‘Little House on the Prairie’. Meanwhile, gays are now so ashamed of their dead her­oes they dig them up and assas­sin­ate them all over again. The gay-adored, gay scrip­ted, gay dir­ec­ted film ‘Milk’ was so pop­u­lar pre­cisely because it bumped off the actual his­tor­ical Harvey Milk and his shame­fully shame­less sex-life, unload­ing a revolver of revi­sion­ism into his chicken-hawk head, repla­cing him with a serially-monogamous imposter who used to be cute and mar­ried to Madonna.

Milk’ also replaced the promis­cu­ous, bathhouse-happy 1970s San Francisco that Milk eagerly embraced — and shagged silly — with some­thing much more real-estate agent. Scripted by a gay Mormon, San Francisco looks less like 70s answer to Sodom and Gomorrah than a gayted com­munity for Gap wear­ing gay couples. No won­der Lance Black men­tioned mar­riage and God more than once in an Oscar accept­ance speech that had more uplift than even his dec­or­ous hairdo.

In the Twenty First cen­tury, respect­ab­il­ity is fast shap­ing up to be the New Closet. Or The Closet 2.0, if you like annoy­ing soft­ware ref­er­ences. And the cus­todi­ans of the New Closet are not paddy-wagons and queer-bashers, but gays them­selves, itch­ing to con­form to stand­ards of hypo­crisy more and more straight people are abandon­ing. As a res­ult, we can look for­wards to many more out­ings such as that of Sam Adams, mayor of Portland, Oregon, once dubbed ‘The New Harvey Milk’, who repeatedly denied rumours of an affair with a teen­ager, denoun­cing them as scur­ril­ous lies play­ing to base ste­reo­types of pred­at­ory homo­sexu­als, but was recently forced to admit that, erm, they weren’t scur­ril­ous after all. Or in fact, lies.

In their head­long pur­suit of respect­ab­il­ity — and let’s not pre­tend that mar­riage priv­ileges are not at least as much about respect­ab­il­ity as about equal­ity — most gays that aren’t ‘cult’ writers like Bruce Benderson or Michael Warner seem to have for­got­ten that gay sex isn’t ter­ribly respect­able, and that it never will be no mat­ter how much you talk up gay domest­icity. Unless you plan on mak­ing med­ical his­tory with a suc­cess­ful womb trans­plant, gay male sex is always going to be improper, inap­pro­pri­ate, non-procreative sex-for-sex’s sake rather than the Pope’s, Uncle Sam’s or Mothercare’s. And that is, if you’re hon­est, prob­ably part of the reason why you enjoy it.

Even the word ‘gay’, now inves­ted with so much golf-club decorum by social-climbing sod­om­ites, doesn’t have a very dec­or­ous his­tory. Despite the com­plaints of retired col­on­els about homos hijack­ing their favour­ite word, gay’s ori­ginal mean­ing of ‘joy­ful’ and ‘care­free’ was pretty much an ant­onym for respect­able. Which may be why in the 17th Century a ‘gay woman’ was a pros­ti­tute, a ‘gay man’ a woman­izer, and a ‘gay house’ a brothel. In the early 20th Century, even before it com­monly became asso­ci­ated with homo­sexu­al­ity, ‘gay’ meant ‘single’ and ‘unat­tached’ — ‘straight’ meant ‘mar­ried’ and ‘respect­able’. In the Twenty First Century those mean­ings have of course been reversed.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be so sur­pris­ing that gays turned out to be like every­one else — given the chance, they’ve grabbed any pro­pri­ety they can lay their hands on and with it their chance to look down on oth­ers (‘Miss California those top­less pho­tos are a scan­dal and an out­rage! Hand your crown back imme­di­ately, you hussy!’). After all, like the sandal-wearing Shaw, I’m look­ing down loftily on those who want to be respect­able. But really, as a Stonewall drag queen might have put it look­ing around the gay world today, smell her!

Ironically — or e-ronically — it’s the unlim­ited, anonym­ous slut­ti­ness of the net that helps sus­tain the New Closet. Now gay men can move to the sub­urbs with their part­ner, present a front of mono­gam­ous chastity to the world, but also have dis­creet sex out­side their rela­tion­ship without hav­ing to access the urban gay scene, or even cruise draughty parks and rest stops. For quite a few gay men Manhunt and Gaydar take on the role pros­ti­tu­tion played with the Victorian gen­tle­men of Shaw’s era: a dis­rep­ut­able insti­tu­tion they strongly dis­ap­prove of that makes their own respect­ab­il­ity pos­sible. (I know I’m not sup­posed to talk about this in pub­lic, but oops, I just have.)

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the nice middle-aged lady on the Clapham Omnibus needs to know what I got up to last night — but on the other hand, I don’t want to have to pre­tend to be the nice middle-aged lady on the Clapham Omnibus.

Respectability is not to be sneered at, though. It can change his­tory. It’s prob­ably just a mat­ter of time before the date of Stonewall is itself revised to 1968 or 1970. After all, 1969 plays far too eas­ily into straight pre­ju­dices about gays being obsessed with per­verse sex.…

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


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.

The Gay Bomb covers the US Air Force in glory

The USAF’s infam­ous ‘Gay Bomb’ has won an illus­tri­ous gong at this year’s pres­ti­gi­ous Ig Nobel Awards. Here’s the piece I wrote about it for the Guardian earlier this year:

Armed and Amorous

by Mark Simpson (Guardian, June 13 2007)

Look out! Take cover! Backs to the walls, boys! It’s the Gay Bomb!

No, not a bomb with fash­ion­ably styled fins, or one that can’t whistle, but rather a pro­posed “non-lethal” chem­ical bomb con­tain­ing “strong aph­ro­dis­i­acs” that would cause “homo­sexual beha­viour” among soldiers.

Since the United States Air Force wanted $7.5 mil­lion of tax­pay­ers’ money to develop it, it prob­ably involved more than the tra­di­tional recipe of a six-pack of beer.

According to the Sunshine Group, an organ­iz­a­tion opposed to chem­ical weapons that recently obtained the ori­ginal pro­posal under the Freedom of Information Act, a U.S.A.F. lab ser­i­ously pro­posed in 1994 “that a bomb be developed con­tain­ing a chem­ical that would cause [enemy] sol­diers to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their sol­diers became irres­ist­ibly attract­ive to one another.” The U.S.A.F. obvi­ously had no idea how picky even horny gays can be.

Despite never hav­ing been developed, the so-called Gay Bomb is a boun­cing bomb, or per­haps a bent stick — it keeps com­ing back. The media have picked up the story of the Gay Bomb more than once since 2005 –after all it’s a story that’s too good to throw away, and, as this art­icle proves, it’s a gift for dubi­ous jokes.

Mind you, it now seems to be the case that the Pentagon didn’t throw it away either, at least not imme­di­ately. In the past the Pentagon has been keen to sug­gest it was just a cranky pro­posal they quickly rejec­ted. The Sunshine Project now con­tra­dicts this, say­ing the Gay Bomb was given ser­i­ous and sus­tained atten­tion by the Pentagon and that in fact they “sub­mit­ted the pro­posal to the highest sci­entific review body in the coun­try for them to con­sider.” The Gay Bomb was no joke.

So per­haps we should ser­i­ously con­sider probing-however gingerly — what exactly was in the minds of the boys at the Pentagon back then.

The date is key. The Gay Bomb pro­posal was sub­mit­ted in 1994 — the year after the extraordin­ary moral panic that very nearly derailed Clinton’s first term when he tried to honor his cam­paign pledge to lift the ban on homo­sexu­als serving in the U.S. mil­it­ary and that ulti­mately pro­duced the cur­rent “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) com­prom­ise that allows them to serve so long as they remain closeted and are not reported.

The newly sworn-in commander-in-chief was suc­cess­fully por­trayed by the homo-baiting right wing-and by the Pentagon itself in an act of insurrection-as a dirty pinko Gay Bomb that was ser­i­ously weak­en­ing the cohe­sion of the unit and molest­ing the noble, het­ero­sexual U.S. fight­ing man’s abil­ity to per­form his manly mis­sion. “Why not drop Clinton on the enemy?” is prob­ably what they were thinking.

The Pentagon’s love affair with the Gay Bomb also hints heav­ily that tick­ing away at the heart of its oppos­i­tion to lift­ing the ban on gays serving, which involved much emphasis on the “close con­di­tions” (cue end­less TV foot­age of naked sol­diers and sail­ors shower­ing together) was an anxi­ety that if homo­sexu­al­ity wasn’t banned the U.S. Armed Forces would quickly turn into one huge, hot, military-themed gay orgy — that American fight­ing men would be too busy offer­ing them­selves to one another to defend their coun­try. I sym­path­ize. I too share the same fantasy — but at least I know it’s called gay porn.

Whatever its motiv­a­tions or ration­al­iz­a­tions, the DADT policy of gay quar­ant­ine has res­ul­ted in thou­sands of dis­charges of homo­sexu­als and bisexu­als from the U.S. Armed Forces, even at a time when the mil­it­ary is hav­ing great dif­fi­culty mobil­iz­ing enough bod­ies of any sexual per­sua­sion and is cur­rently being pub­licly ques­tioned. But the Pentagon seems unlikely to budge its insti­tu­tional back from the pro­ver­bial wall. Its top com­mander, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, recently defen­ded the policy in out­spoken terms, say­ing: “I believe that homo­sexual acts between two indi­vidu­als are immoral and that we should not con­done immoral acts.” (The good General prob­ably didn’t mean to sug­gest that homo­sexual acts involving only one per­son or more than two were not immoral.)

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a policy that even Joseph Heller would have had dif­fi­culty sat­ir­iz­ing, may be con­fused and con­fus­ing, and it may or may not be repealed in the near future, but it clearly shows that the U.S. remains dra­mat­ic­ally con­flic­ted about itself and the enorm­ous changes in atti­tudes and beha­vior that its own afflu­ence and soph­ist­ic­a­tion have helped bring about.

After all, the Gay Bomb is here already and it’s been thor­oughly tested-on civil­ians. It was developed not by the U.S.A.F. but by the labor­at­or­ies of American con­sumer and pop cul­ture, advert­ising, and Hollywood. If you want to awaken the enemy to the attract­ive­ness of the male body, try drop­ping back issues of Men’s Health or GQ on them. Or Abercrombie & Fitch posters. Or Justin Timberlake videos. Or DVDs of 300.

Or even the U.S.‘s newly acquired British-made weapons sys­tem for deliv­er­ing global sexual con­fu­sion and hys­teria known as David Beckham.

To para­phrase the Duke of Wellington: I don’t know whether they frighten the enemy, but by God they scare the Bejeesus out of me.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2007


Mark Simpson talks on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row about ‘I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry’, the new Adam Sandler film about two straight fire­fight­ers who pre­tend to be gay, and the phe­nomenon of ‘Playgay’ cur­rently min­cing and lisp­ing and gen­er­ally dis­sem­bling through pop cul­ture. Click on the Audio but­ton (right) to start: chuck-and-larry.mp3

Another liberal loses his mind over Larry Craig

An elo­quent, but quite unhinged example from 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 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.

Larry Craig: the Deep Fried Famous Potato








by Mark Simpson

Whether or not Idaho’s Senator Larry Craig likes cock or not, fol­low­ing his arrest for ‘lewd con­duct’ in a men’s room at Minneapolis air­port this week one thing is for sure: a lot of cock has been writ­ten about him. Here’s Melissa McEwan offer­ing a typ­ical — if rel­at­ively kind — com­ment­ary in the Guardian:

Voting against the interests of the LGBT com­munity dis­plays either a cal­lous lack of feel­ing towards people with whom he shares a ves­ted interest, or it’s a hypo­crit­ical attempt to ensure his longev­ity as a politician.’

Call me pedantic, but tap­ping your foot or put­ting your hand under a toi­let stall par­ti­tion doesn’t make you par­tic­u­larly les­bian, gay, bisexual or trans­gendered. Or part of any com­munity with whom you share ‘ves­ted interests’.

Judging by the rush to ‘out’ Craig as a ‘hypo­crit­ical closeted gay’ by hordes of cal­lous blog­gers and colum­nists, and the scorn poured on his claims that he’s not gay, it seems that lib­er­als are equipped with even bet­ter and stricter sex­poli­cing instincts than Minnesota’s Finest. Liberals don’t just fin­ger your col­lar, they fin­ger your soul — divine your inner­most desires, make iden­ti­fic­a­tions on your behalf and work out what your own ves­ted interests are for you. Even though they’ve never met you or shared a bath­room with you.

After all, Minnesota’s sex­po­lice, as the (cute, young) arrest­ing officer (pic­tured above) makes clear in the taped inter­view with Craig, are not con­cerned whether someone is gay or not — merely whether they might be soli­cit­ing sex in a bath­room. Or whether they respond to their own flir­ta­tious foot­sie. And by the way, I know I’m being pedantic again, but we don’t even know that Craig was look­ing for sex in that bath­room. Yes, of course, it seems quite pos­sible, very likely even, but we only have a policeman’s word for it. And lib­er­als don’t usu­ally fall over them­selves to believe a police­man, espe­cially when he’s paid to hang around toi­lets all day like ripe cot­tage cheese in a mousetrap. Let alone one that seems to have, on the tape, pos­sibly a self-righteous polit­ical axe to grind (‘no won­der this coun­try is going down the tubes’).

Unless of course they’re entrap­ping a con­ser­vat­ive politician.

Even if Craig was def­in­itely, unques­tion­ably a dick-craving, tap-dancing cot­tager, it wouldn’t mean that he was gay, or that he should feel any affin­ity to the gay com­munity. As safer-sex edu­cat­ors can tell you, rather a lot of men have cas­ual anonym­ous sex with other men without see­ing them­selves as gay, or even bisexual. Or Democrat.

Now, you may think them wrong­headed. You may think them closeted and self-loathing and in denial. You may con­sider them creepy. But that’s just what you think — it’s not neces­sar­ily who they are. You may wish the world was a tidier place, where any depar­ture from offi­cial het­ero­sexu­al­ity was ‘Gay’ or ‘Lesbian’ or ‘Bisexual’ — and proudly iden­ti­fied itself as such — but sexual beha­viour isn’t like that. Sexual beha­viour into iden­tity doesn’t go. Cripes, desire into iden­tity doesn’t even fit very well. As police offi­cials admit, most of the men they arrest in bath­rooms are mar­ried (and prob­ably the main reason, along with the repeated threats of jail-time from the arrest­ing officer if they don’t ‘co-operate’ and ‘make it easy on your­self’, why most, like Craig, don’t fight the charge in court).

When married-with-kids Welsh sec­ret­ary Ron Davies had his ‘moment of mad­ness’, as he described it, on the South London gay cruis­ing ground Clapham Common in 1998 which led to his resig­na­tion, there was no ‘hypo­crisy’ angle, but he was nev­er­the­less con­demned uni­ver­sally in the British press, lib­eral and con­ser­vat­ive alike — not for his cruis­ing, we were told, but for his stub­born refusal to ‘come out as gay’ and ‘face facts’, for ‘his own good’. How con­sid­er­ate of the ladies and gen­tle­men of the press. But, I won­der, if he had been caught in a red light dis­trict would he have been expec­ted to come out as a con­gen­ital vis­itor of pros­ti­tutes? Would he have been required to declare pub­licly that this was the inner­most ‘truth’ of who he was? (In the US, Louisiana Senator David Vitter kept his job after recently admit­ting he used prostitutes.)

If sexu­al­ity is a murky busi­ness, even what we mean by ‘sex’ is not always as clear as we like to pre­tend. In the teeth of the state –sponsored witch-hunt by sex­po­lice­man (and judge and jury) Ken Starr, Bill Clinton’s denial that he had sex with Monica Lewinsky was not simply the law­yerly soph­istry or bald-faced ‘lie’ that almost every­one, how­ever they estim­ated the import­ance of it, denounced it as being at the time. A good Southern Baptist, Clinton wouldn’t have con­sidered that oral sex con­sti­tuted ‘sex’ — and in fact he was care­ful never to have inter­course with Lewinsky. Nor is this simply Baptist, or fuddy-duddy think­ing. In the same dec­ade, the American Medical Association found that 60% of American col­lege stu­dents didn’t con­sider oral sex ‘sex’. In other words, prob­ably most of the Americans con­demning Clinton for his ‘lies’ were being… hypocritical.

Then again, America is a coun­try that likes to call a toi­let a ‘bath­room’ — when there is no bath in it. Or a ‘restroom’ — when there is pre­cious little rest­ing going on. Especially in Minneapolis International Airport.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot (stray­ing under the stall par­ti­tion) the same kind of sanc­ti­mo­ni­ous solid­ar­ity appears to have been ranged against Craig — but with interest. His own party, appalled at the merest whiff of the men’s room, have glanced at the toi­let paper stuck to his shoe and run off scream­ing. Republican Presidential hope­ful Mitt Romney, just a few days ago, a friend and close polit­ical ally, wrinkled his Mormon nose, described the affair in his best Lady Bracknell as ‘dis­gust­ing’ and dis­owned Craig; faced with zero sup­port from his GOP com­rades Craig now seems likely to resign. Politically, he’s toast.

Yes, Craig is a Senator for a Party I have no love for, a party which panders to the gay-bashing of the reli­gious right and which launched a crim­inal war. Craig has sup­por­ted policies like ‘Don’t ask, dont’ tell’ which drum out men and women from the Armed Forces for less than he was accused of. And yes, he may well be — like much of the Republican Party — pre­tend­ing to vir­tues he doesn’t pos­sess. He is, after all, a politi­cian. He may also have lied through his teeth. (Again, he’s a politi­cian.) But I can’t help but have some sym­pathy for a hunted, rural thing (Idaho is the home of ‘fam­ous pota­toes’) and every­one of whatever polit­ical stripe in the US appears to want to throw Craig into the nearest deep-fat fryer.

When talk­ing about people’s sex lives, lib­er­als should prob­ably think twice about hurl­ing the world ‘hypo­crite’ around with as much rel­ish as con­ser­vat­ives like to use the word ‘immoral’ or ‘per­vert’. It’s much the same kind of pub­lic sham­ing. It used to be called ston­ing. Let him who is without sin cast the first blog.

Moreover, I’d like to ven­ture, some­what con­tro­ver­sially, that ‘hypo­crisy’ is a word that has had a bit of a bad press, espe­cially in the con­fes­sional cul­ture of the US. What is a ‘hypo­crite’ any­way? Someone whose private life fails to match up to his pub­lic image? That’s not even the defin­i­tion of a politi­cian — that’s the defin­i­tion of a human being. Besides, some­times hypo­crisy might simply be the voice of experience.

Craig may cut a pre­pos­ter­ous fig­ure, but what’s even more pre­pos­ter­ous is the sight of a long line of lib­er­als form­ing to ham­mer on the stall this married-with-grandkids Republican’s been locked in by the media — and his own ‘moment of mad­ness’ — yelling, ‘COME OUT!! YOURE GAY, YOU GODDAM HYPOCRITE!! YOURE SHOWING A CALLOUS LACK OF VESTED SELF-INTEREST TO YOUR LGBT COMMUNITY!!’.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2007

The Gay Bomb


Mark Simpson drops the Gay Bomb

(Guardian & Out magazine June 13, 2007)

Look out! Take cover! Backs to the walls, boys! It’s the Gay Bomb!

No, not a bomb with fash­ion­ably styled fins or one that can’t whistle, but rather a pro­posed “non-lethal” chem­ical bomb con­tain­ing “strong aph­ro­dis­i­acs” that would cause “homo­sexual beha­vior” among soldiers.

Since the United States Air Force wanted $7.5 mil­lion of tax­pay­ers’ money to develop it, it prob­ably involved more than the tra­di­tional recipe of a few six-packs of beer.

According to the Sunshine Group, an organ­iz­a­tion opposed to chem­ical weapons that recently obtained the ori­ginal pro­posal under the Freedom of Information Act, a U.S.A.F. lab ser­i­ously pro­posed in 1994 “that a bomb be developed con­tain­ing a chem­ical that would cause [enemy] sol­diers to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their sol­diers became irres­ist­ibly attract­ive to one another.” The U.S.A.F. obvi­ously didn’t know how picky even horny gays can be.

Despite never hav­ing been developed, the so-called Gay Bomb is a boun­cing bomb — or per­haps a bent stick: it keeps com­ing back. The media have picked up the story of the Gay Bomb more than once since 2005 — after all it’s a story that’s too good to throw away, and, as this art­icle proves, it’s a gift for dubi­ous jokes.

Mind you, it now seems to be the case that the Pentagon didn’t throw it away either, at least not imme­di­ately. In the past the Pentagon has been keen to sug­gest it was just a cranky pro­posal they quickly rejec­ted. The Sunshine Project now con­tra­dicts this, say­ing the Gay Bomb was given ser­i­ous and sus­tained atten­tion by the Pentagon and that in fact they “sub­mit­ted the pro­posal to the highest sci­entific review body in the coun­try for them to con­sider.” The Gay Bomb was no joke.

So per­haps we should ser­i­ously con­sider probing-however gingerly — what exactly was in the minds of the boys at the Pentagon back then.

The date is key. The Gay Bomb pro­posal was sub­mit­ted in 1994-the year after the extraordin­ary moral panic that very nearly derailed Clinton’s first term when he tried to honor his cam­paign pledge to lift the ban on homo­sexu­als serving in the U.S. mil­it­ary and that ulti­mately pro­duced the cur­rent “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) com­prom­ise that allows them to serve so long as they remain closeted and are not reported.

The newly sworn-in Commander-in-Chief was suc­cess­fully por­trayed by the homo-baiting right wing — and by the Pentagon itself — as a dirty pinko Gay Bomb that was ser­i­ously weak­en­ing the cohe­sion of the unit and molest­ing the noble, het­ero­sexual U.S. fight­ing man’s abil­ity to per­form his manly mis­sion. “Why not drop Clinton on the enemy?” is prob­ably what they were thinking.

The Pentagon’s love affair with the Gay Bomb also hints heav­ily that tick­ing away at the heart of its oppos­i­tion to lift­ing the ban on gays serving, which involved much emphasis on the “close con­di­tions” (cue end­less TV foot­age of naked sol­diers and sail­ors shower­ing together) was an anxi­ety that if homo­sexu­al­ity wasn’t act­ively dis­cour­aged the U.S. Armed Forces would quickly turn into one huge, hot, military-themed gay orgy — that American fight­ing men would be too busy offer­ing them­selves to one another to defend their coun­try. I sym­path­ize. I too share the same fantasy — but at least I know it’s called gay porn.

Whatever its motiv­a­tions or ration­al­iz­a­tions, the DADT policy of gay quar­ant­ine has res­ul­ted in thou­sands of dis­charges of homo­sexu­als and bisexu­als from the U.S. Armed Forces, even at a time when the mil­it­ary is hav­ing great dif­fi­culty mobil­iz­ing enough bod­ies of any sexual per­sua­sion and is cur­rently being pub­licly ques­tioned. But the Pentagon seems unlikely to budge its insti­tu­tional back from the pro­ver­bial wall.

Its top com­mander, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, recently defen­ded the policy in out­spoken terms, say­ing: “I believe that homo­sexual acts between two indi­vidu­als are immoral and that we should not con­done immoral acts.” (The good General prob­ably didn’t mean to sug­gest that homo­sexual acts involving only one per­son or more than two were not immoral.)

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a policy that even Joseph Heller would have had dif­fi­culty sat­ir­iz­ing, may be con­fused and con­fus­ing, and it may or may not be repealed in the near future, but it clearly shows that the U.S. remains dra­mat­ic­ally con­flic­ted about itself and the enorm­ous changes in atti­tudes and beha­vior that its own afflu­ence and soph­ist­ic­a­tion have helped bring about.

After all, the Gay Bomb is here already, and it’s been thor­oughly tested — on civil­ians. It was developed not by the U.S.A.F. but by the labor­at­or­ies of American con­sumer and pop cul­ture, advert­ising, and Hollywood. If you want to awaken the enemy to the attract­ive­ness of the male body, try drop­ping back issues of Men’s Health or GQ on them. Or Abercrombie & Fitch posters. Or Justin Timberlake videos. Or DVDs of 300.

Or even the U.S.‘s newly acquired British-made weapons sys­tem for deliv­er­ing global sexual con­fu­sion and hys­teria known as ‘David Beckham’.

To para­phrase the Duke of Wellington: I don’t know whether they frighten the enemy, but by God they scare the Bejeesus out of me.

Mens Health Magazine – How Gay is It?

Mark Simpson probes Men’s Health and finds it in pain­ful denial (ori­gin­ally appeared on Guardian CiF)

Isn’t it about time Men’s Health, the world’s biggest-selling ‘men’s life­style’ magazine, came out to itself?

I couldn’t get to sleep the other night and so resor­ted to flick­ing through last month’s UK issue: I find the pic­tures of semi-naked men’s per­fect, sweat­ing muscles and the dron­ing nar­ciss­istic hypo­chon­dria of the copy in this notori­ous met­ro­mag strangely soothing.

Then I happened across a five page cringe­mak­ingly earn­est art­icle about ‘het­ero­pol­it­ans’ (com­plete with a deathly ser­i­ous ‘Am I het­ero­pol­itan?’ ques­tion­naire), which MH wants us to believe have replaced met­ro­sexu­als. Apparently met­ro­sexu­als were too gay and too vain. HETEROpolitans on the other hand are just per­fect: they’re really, really hetero, really attract­ive, really buffed, really rich, really styl­ish and really suc­cess­ful. What’s more they also find the time to be really great hus­bands and dads, and are not in the least bit gay, vain, or even single.

Did I men­tion that they’re not gay already? And guess what? Men’s Health read­ers are all goody-two-shoes ‘heteropolitans’!

Now this single, child­less, beer-bellied bum-bandit REALLY couldn’t get to sleep.

Who do they think they’re kid­ding with this guff? Their mother? Men’s Health, with it’s front page pin-ups of studly six-packed shirt­less men and pages and pages obsessive-compulsive advice on how to get the per­fect pecs/skin/low-fat soufflé has long been one of the most nakedly metro of the men’s met­ro­mags. You might be for­given for think­ing that the only ques­tion­naire MH needs to run is: ‘Am I Gay? Or Just Bisexual?’

It looks like we’ll have to wait a while for that one. Of course most of its read­ers are not card-carrying homos like me (though most of them prob­ably have a Boots Storecard). Or closeted. Or even par­tic­u­larly bisexual. Though I’d take a wild guess that a fair per­cent­age of them are. But even the major­ity hetero read­ers of MH and other men’s shop­ping and gym­ing ‘men’s life­style’ mags are not that hetero – they’re clearly metro. Even if MH is in massive denial about this.

The prissy pre­tence that that any sug­ges­tion of gay­ness is utterly incon­ceiv­able between their pristine pages can lead to hil­ari­ous res­ults: such as the recent MH sex guide which encour­aged read­ers to get in touch with the hid­den pleas­ures of their pro­state gland by ‘get­ting your girl­friend to mas­sage it for you with her fin­ger’. Or maybe your boy­friend could do it with his penis? (In fact, it’s MH and con­sumer­ism in gen­eral that is really ‘mas­sa­ging your pro­state’, no vaseline.)

I haven’t been exactly what you’d call a devoted reader over the years (the UK edi­tion of MH was launched in 1995), I tend to dip in when I’m feel­ing in need of mas­ochistic motiv­a­tion at the gym or just some eye-candy, but I don’t recall MH always being so com­ic­ally keen to insist on its Totally Het cre­den­tials. Yes, like almost all men’s glos­sies, the copy didn’t openly acknow­ledge any of its read­ers might be homo­sexual, bisexual, bi-curious, or even just straight but-not-narrow. But then, with those cov­ers it didn’t need to.

Obviously there’s been a rethink at MH Towers. MH is pub­lished by Rodale, an American-owned com­pany and I sus­pect they’ve been influ­enced by all that men­dacious ‘menas­sance’ mar­ket­ing twaddle in the US last year in which manly man­li­ness and old-time real-guyness sup­posedly made a comeback knock­ing that faggy metro back into the closet. ‘Reclaim your man­hood – go shop­ping for mois­tur­iser in a Hummer’, that kind of thing.

Maybe this faux-macho Hummersexual over-compensation works in God-fearing, Bush-voting, fag-baiting America – after all, as Gore Vidal once observed, Ernest Hemingway was a joke that only America couldn’t get. But it just looks as camp as a row of cam­ou­flage print tents over here. When it doesn’t come across just plain creepy.

Every month gets more sur­real in the flaw­lessly worked-out world of MH. In addi­tion to the usual advice on how to achieve the most desir­able body on the dance-floor, the May issue of MH includes an oh-so butch ‘Spartan war­rior workout’ based on the Chippendale epic ‘300’, ran­dom expres­sions of dis­gust at male homo­sexu­al­ity in the Dining Out sec­tion, and a ‘wel­come aboard’ piece on the Contributors Page in which the editor chas­tises a new boy from Total Film for spend­ing too much time review­ing films ‘in darkened base­ments with other men’.

Not to worry though lads, noth­ing queer about the new groom­ing editor: he’s a fan of Rocky movies. (I kid you not.) ‘We’re now ensur­ing he spends as much time in day­light and in the com­pany of women as pos­sible,’ smugly assures the – rather gay and grey look­ing – editor. Which means, I guess, that he won’t be spend­ing much time in the gym. Or read­ing Men’s Health.

After tak­ing rather a lot of paid advice from MH over the years, I have some advice for them I’ll offer gratis. The edit­or­ial staff at MH should give some ser­i­ous thought to all those nasty stress hor­mones released into the blood­stream by hav­ing to live a lie, and the ter­rible things they do to com­plex­ions, hair and muscle tone.

Not to men­tion look­ing abso­lutely bloody ridicu­lous by being so nancy about man­sex and so coy about some­thing as nat­ural and irre­press­ible as good old male vanity.

Especially when your busi­ness is built on it.


This essay is col­lec­ted in Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story