End of Gays?’ — Kindle Single essay

NSodom and Gomorrah.indd

Back in the 1980s, when the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher banned the ‘pro­mo­tion’ of homo­sexu­al­ity, gays were still semi-criminal – as well as immoral, ridicu­lous, dis­gust­ing, dis­eased and after your kids.

The UK’s ban on homo­sexual pro­pa­ganda failed – spec­tac­u­larly. Gays have been pro­moted more rap­idly and gid­dily than almost any per­se­cuted, des­pised group in his­tory. In just a gen­er­a­tion or so UK gays have achieved legal equal­ity, civil rights and even respect­ab­il­ity. Today they are gay mar­ried by the Tory PM, David Cameron, no less. Homosexuality has joined the golf club.

But, asks Mark Simpson in this pro­voc­at­ive Kindle essay, maybe gay people are a vic­tim of their own suc­cess. Perhaps the biggest prob­lem that gay people face in the UK and much of the West today is no longer overt homo­pho­bia, but rather the rapid fall­ing off of it. At least for their sur­vival as a dis­tinct group with their own iden­tity, cul­ture, clubs, hankie sem­a­phore and sensibility.

The Gays’ have been shaped and defined by their long struggle against pre­ju­dice. But what’s left of gay­ness when the homo­pho­bia stops?

Download End of Gays? on Kindle



Put a Ring On It

My old friend the (gay) human rights cam­paigner Peter Tatchell, once loathed by the pop­u­lar press for his ‘rad­ical extrem­ism’, is the biggest, loudest voice in the UK call­ing for same sex marriage.

Or was, until he found him­self in bed recently with David Cameron, the Conservative Prime Minister, who stole his thun­der some­what by announ­cing at the Tory Party Conference this month his sup­port for gay mar­riage – “Not des­pite my being a Conservative, but because I’m a Conservative.”

In the UK civil part­ner­ships were intro­duced in 2004, giv­ing same sex couples who signed up for them effect­ively the same legal rights – and priv­ileges over single people – as mar­ried couples. Civil part­ner­ships have been regarded as a suc­cess, and while it’s true that many les­bi­ans and gays prob­ably would want the option, unlike in the US there has been no great clam­our for same sex mar­riage – no riots in Soho or MLK-esque speeches at the BAFTAs.

In fact, the lack of much of a clam­our for same-sex mar­riage (except for per­haps the one com­ing from Tatchell) is one of the reas­ons why Cameron was able to so eas­ily co-opt – or ‘out’ – gay mar­riage as some­thing essen­tially Conservative/conservative. And in the pro­cess com­plete his swishy remod­el­ling of the Tories as the socially lib­eral, Nice to Gays, MetroTory Party, rather than The Nasty Party people remem­ber from the 80s, 90s and much of the Noughties. While throw­ing his Coalition part­ners the Lib-Dems a boner.

And in an import­ant sense he’s right about gay mar­riage: Conservatives don’t like new insti­tu­tions, they like old ones. Really dusty, cob­webby ones that don’t work any­more. Although age­ing hang ‘em and flog ‘em Shire Tories whom Holland Park ‘Dave’ clearly des­pises and who des­pise him back with interest won’t agree, bet­ter that gays line up to get mar­ried than go off and do their own civil thing. Especially when no one else is both­er­ing to get mar­ried any more.

Unsurprisingly, half-hearted pro­pos­als to extend civil part­ner­ships to cross-sex couples have been dropped – the reason cross-sex couples were barred from civil part­ner­ships in the first place was due to fears that this would ‘under­mine mar­riage’. The Tories, remem­ber, want to prop up the lame duck industry of mar­riage by intro­du­cing a state sub­sidy for it.

But should Cameron suc­ceed in leg­al­ising same-sex mar­riage, Tatchell isn’t going to get gay mar­ried him­self. Despite his very per­sonal iden­ti­fic­a­tion with the cause of same sex mar­riage in the UK for sev­eral years, and his use of melo­dra­matic rhet­oric such as ‘sexual apartheid’ and ‘rid­ing at the back of the bus’ to describe civil part­ner­ships, he rejects mar­riage alto­gether – on polit­ical  grounds. Debating with Suzanne Moore (another old friend of mine) in Saturday’s Guardian in the wake of Cameron’s pledge, he repeated an argu­ment he has made many times before:

Personally, I don’t like mar­riage. I share the fem­in­ist cri­tique of its his­tory of sex­ism and pat­ri­archy. I would not want to get married.’

In other words, he sees mar­riage as a sys­tem of oppres­sion and inequal­ity which he wants noth­ing to do with. Though of course, this doesn’t mean he can’t cru­sade self­lessly for the right of oth­ers to get oppressed:

But as a demo­crat and human rights defender, I sup­port the right of oth­ers to marry. This is a simple issue of equal­ity. The ban on same-sex mar­riage is dis­crim­in­a­tion and dis­crim­in­a­tion is wrong, full stop.’

Even without dwell­ing on the slight con­tra­dic­tion of cam­paign­ing for the exten­sion of a sys­tem of oppres­sion and inequal­ity under the ban­ner of equal­ity, Tatchell is not present­ing much of an argu­ment here. Rather — and I say this as someone who owes Peter a debt of thanks for help­ing to get my first book pub­lished and for provid­ing a crack­ing essay for my 1996collection Anti-Gay — it’s a school­marmish piece of mor­al­ism designed to close down debate: ‘…dis­crim­in­a­tion is wrong, full stop’. Oh, no! The dreaded full stop! That’s it then. My powers of dia­lectic have turned to dust!

I’ve heard sim­ilar from lib­eral het­eros who like to wear their sup­port for gay mar­riage as a badge of their lib­er­al­ism, and are crest­fal­len when you don’t pat them on the back for it. The poor dears usu­ally end up irrit­ably dis­miss­ing queer kill­joys like me as ‘per­verse’ and ‘eccent­ric’. Liberal do-gooders know best, even when they’re straight lib­eral do-gooders talk­ing about gay mar­riage to gayers.

Thankfully, not all straight lib­er­als think alike — in the Guardian debate Suzanne Moore dares to be the straight party-pooper at the gay mar­riage recep­tion, air­ing many of the argu­ments that lots of LGBT people agree with but tend to keep quiet about in front of the Goyim. Like her, I’m not so much against same-sex mar­riage (what would be the point of that? Unless you have a kink for chain­ing your­self to church rail­ings), as just not for it.

But agnosti­cism about gay mar­riage isn’t really per­mit­ted. After all, gay America, Tatchell, straight lib­er­als and even David Cameron all say we have to be for it. Full stop.

Thing is, if you get with the pro­gramme and make equal­ity for its own sake your god you can end up say­ing really daft things which you clearly don’t believe. Worse, by mak­ing it the meas­ure of ‘equal­ity’, you make even more of a fet­ish out of mar­riage than the traditionalists.

And someone like Peter Tatchell, who has a long, rad­ical his­tory, who rejects mar­riage as ‘sex­ist and pat­ri­archal’, who would like to see civil part­ner­ships made more flex­ible and exten­ded to cross-sex couples (so would I, but it’s not going to hap­pen under this Government), ends up say­ing stuff like: ‘mar­riage is the gold stand­ard.’

Perhaps, des­pite his deni­als, Peter really does want to get mar­ried after all. Sometimes he cer­tainly sounds like a very old-fashioned girl.

Metrosexual Daddy Mark Simpson interviewed by Elise Moore

English author and journ­al­ist Mark Simpson on love-hating the met­ro­sexual, why bromance lacks balls, and why women are strap­ping on Captain Kirk.

By Elise Moore (Suite 101, May 6, 2010)

If you could copy­right neo­lo­gisms, Mark Simpson would be a bil­lion­aire. Since you can’t, the British gay/gender issues and pop/culture com­ment­ator talked to Suite101 about the real defin­i­tion of met­ro­sexu­al­ity and gave his views on gay mar­riage leg­al­iz­a­tion, slash fic, bromance, and more.

The Metrosexual Past and Present

Being respons­ible for the met­ro­sexual could keep less hearty souls awake at night. But Mark thinks the guilt should be shared. “Probably con­sumer­ism, post-feminism, Men’s Health magazine and Jersey Shore should shoulder at least some of the respons­ib­il­ity for the nor­mal­iz­a­tion of male van­ity. I mean, the fact the President of the US now makes the Free World wait every morn­ing for him to fin­ish his work-out, and is some­thing of his own First Lady, isn’t entirely down to me.

Like most people, I have a love-hate rela­tion­ship with the met­ro­sexual. I love it when he pays me atten­tion, and hate it when he’s flirt­ing with someone else. Then I call him ‘self-obsessed’.”

Speaking of love-hating the met­ro­sexual, Jerry Lewis argu­ably made the first met­ro­sexual movie, The Nutty Professor, in 1963. “The Nutty Professor is a remark­able film,” Mark agrees. “It’s a kind of proto-metrosexual sci-fi. Geeky, unkempt, invis­ible and unlaid, Lewis con­cocts a potion that makes him the centre of atten­tion and irres­ist­ible – by boost­ing his nar­ciss­ism to mon­strous levels. It’s Viagra and Biotherme Homme for Men in one product – dec­ades before either were invented.”

Metrosexuality and Consumerism

Metrosexuality has lots of ante­cedents of course: the virile degen­er­acy of Brando, Dean and Elvis in the 1950s, Jagger ‘s petu­lant nar­ciss­ism in the 60s, Bowie’s glit­ter­ing glam­ness in the 1970s, the mirrored male world of Saturday Night Fever and American Gigolo – and the mil­it­ary gay porn aes­thetic of Top Gun. But they didn’t coalesce into the main­stream, High Street, off-the-peg phe­nomenon of medi­ated, com­mod­i­fied, love-me-or-love-me mas­culin­ity known as met­ro­sexu­al­ity until the late Eighties, early Nineties.”

This close cor­rel­a­tion between the met­ro­sexual and increas­ing con­sumer­ism is what gets Mark annoyed when he’s con­fused with the late 19th cen­tury dandy. “As if we can pre­tend that the sexual and aes­thetic divi­sion of labour of the Nineteenth and most of the Twentieth Century didn’t hap­pen. As if Oscar Wilde – per­haps the most fam­ous and in many ways the last dandy – hadn’t been des­troyed by Victorian mor­al­ity for his ‘gross inde­cency’. As if male nar­ciss­ism and sen­su­al­ity hadn’t been asso­ci­ated with male homo­sexu­al­ity – and thus crim­in­al­ised and patho­lo­gised – for the next hun­dred years.

And as if a dandy would have done any­thing so vul­gar as go to the gym and get sweaty.”

Manlove for Ladies and Bros

Mark is also up for equal-opportunity equal oppor­tun­ity when it comes to women who like the idea of man-on-man, as exem­pli­fied by the fan fic­tion phe­nomenon known as “slash fic.” “I’m fas­cin­ated and some­times a little scared by the way that women inter­pret and fan­tas­ize male-on-male sex. Manlove for ladies is very dif­fer­ent to gay porn. For starters, it uses ima­gin­a­tion. Gay porn never does that. Slash-fic also tends to have a lot of feel­ings. Which always, always cause loss of wood in gay porn.

Sometimes it seems as if women are try­ing, rather fab­ulously, to escape their pre­scribed fem­in­ine sub­jectiv­ity by pro­ject­ing them­selves into the bod­ies of their male prot­ag­on­ists. Captain Kirk as the ulti­mate strap-on.”

Is “man­love for ladies,” as Mark calls it, com­par­able in any way to the new neo­lo­gism in town, “bromance”? “Manlove for the ladies has much more in the way of… balls than ‘bromance’. As the name ‘bromance’ sug­gests, actual sex, or in fact any­thing phys­ical, would be a form of incest. It seems like it’s being left to women to put men in touch with their bi-curiousness. Which is as every­one knows – but pre­tends not to – even more com­mon than the female variety.”

The Greatest Iconoclast

If the views expressed above haven’t made it clear, Mark has upset a few people in his career, not least other, more “ortho­dox” gay com­ment­at­ors. But who out of his infatu­ations and inspir­a­tions would he deem the greatest icon­o­clast — Camille Paglia, Lady Gaga, Morrissey, Jerry Lewis? “I would prob­ably have to pick Gore Vidal. He took on everything that is sac­red in America: Machismo. Empire. The Kennedys. The Cold War. Hollywood. Monotheism and Monosexuality. What’s more his hil­ari­ous late 1960s trans­sexual novel ‘Myra Breckenridge’ figured out what was hap­pen­ing to mas­culin­ity and fem­in­in­ity before I was out of short trousers and long before the Twenty First Century got underway.

Come to think of it, I should prob­ably clast Mr. Vidal for leav­ing so little for the rest of us to smash.”

Future of Metrosexuality

Now that the 21st cen­tury is unavoid­ably under­way, what does the new mil­len­nium hold for the metrosexual?

A big, scen­ted candle. And even more product.”


Not in Front of the Goyim: Gays and Not-So-Open Relationships

Interesting piece by Scott James in today’s New York Times:

New research at San Francisco State University reveals just how com­mon open rela­tion­ships are among gay men and les­bi­ans in the Bay Area. The Gay Couples Study has fol­lowed 556 male couples for three years — about 50 per­cent of those sur­veyed have sex out­side their rela­tion­ships, with the know­ledge and approval of their partners.

That con­sent is key. “With straight people, it’s called affairs or cheat­ing,” said Colleen Hoff, the study’s prin­cipal invest­ig­ator, “but with gay people it does not have such neg­at­ive connotations.”

The study also found open gay couples just as happy in their rela­tion­ships as pairs in sexu­ally exclus­ive uni­ons, Dr. Hoff said. A dif­fer­ent study, pub­lished in 1985, con­cluded that open gay rela­tion­ships actu­ally las­ted longer.

However the reporter dis­covered a wall of silence sur­round­ing the subject:

None of this is news in the gay com­munity, but few will speak pub­licly about it. Of the dozen people in open rela­tion­ships con­tac­ted for this column, no one would agree to use his or her full name, cit­ing pri­vacy con­cerns. They also wor­ried that dis­cuss­ing the sub­ject could under­mine the legal fight for same-sex marriage.

Or per­haps they worry they might be shouted down and called ‘sluts’ by the gay blogs.

Given the very real fear of being osctra­cised and shamed for talk­ing in front of the goyim about how gay rela­tion­ships actu­ally are, instead of the Disney-esque way that gay mar­riage zealots would like to por­tray them, it seems a reas­on­able assump­tion that the 50% fig­ure is an under­re­port­ing.  Probably most gay male rela­tion­ships in the Bay Area are open.  As I’ve said before, in pub­lic, in front of the goyim, in my exper­i­ence prob­ably most gay male rela­tion­ships are open.  (I’ll admit I was sur­prised by the article’s claims about les­bian rela­tion­ships — but then, I have rather less exper­i­ence of them…).

Of course, it doesn’t really mat­ter whether it’s half or most, or even a large minor­ity, the point, as Scott James acknow­ledges, is that this is def­in­itely not an attrib­ute of the vast major­ity of hetero rela­tion­ships.  Many may have their ‘infi­del­it­ies’, but very, very few have open rela­tion­ships.  For most the concept is a con­tra­dic­tion in terms.  Especially if mar­ried.  The author makes much of how the ope­ness of gay rela­tion­ships can help reform the fail­ing insti­tu­tion of mar­riage, but per­son­ally I sus­pect he fails to under­stand what mar­riage actu­ally is, and the pro­pri­et­ary, exclus­ive nature of it.  In real­ity, gay mar­riage may just  suc­ceed in mak­ing gay rela­tion­ships less open and more hypocritical.

Too often the move­ment for gay mar­riage is cen­sori­ous and shame-based, about present­ing homo­sexu­al­ity as a neutered het­ero­sexu­al­ity, about claim­ing over and over again that gay rela­tion­ships are ‘just like’ straight ones and any­one who says dif­fer­ent is a bigot and ‘homo­phobe’ –  exter­n­al­ised or internalised.

There’s also another dimen­sion to the reluct­ance of gay couples to talk about their open rela­tion­ships… openly, one that has less to do with wor­ry­ing about what the gays will say, and more to do with what the world will think: It may cost them their new-found respect­ab­il­ity.  This after all is the point of ‘gay mar­riage’ for some, par­tic­u­larly those of the Sullivanite tend­ency: to prove to the world they’re not like those promis­cu­ous, hedon­istic, slut gays. Even and espe­cially if they are still get­ting rogered by them reg­u­larly via Manhunt.

Then again, open rela­tion­ships can be hard work.  And dis­cuss­ing them in pub­lic allows people like me to pass unhelp­ful com­ment.  Here’s ‘Chris’ and ‘James” rules for their open relationship:

com­plete dis­clos­ure, hon­esty about all encoun­ters, advance approval of part­ners, and no sex with strangers — they must both know the other men first. “We check in with each other on this an awful lot,” said James, 37.

Obviously how they con­duct their rela­tion­ship is their busi­ness — and good luck to them — but I can’t help won­der­ing if in this instance mono­gamy wouldn’t be much less trouble.

Gay Marriage On The Rocks: Ain’t No Surprise

The wheels appear to have come off the gay mar­riage bus in the US and no one seems to know how to put them back on.  Not even the lesbians.

And that’s not accord­ing to med­dlin’ Limey Uncle Tom ‘slut’ me (as I was dubbed by the Voice of Gay America) but accord­ing to the gay-marriage-supporting  New York Times in a piece last week titled ‘Amidst Small Wins, Advocates Lose Marquee Battles’:

…the bill to leg­al­ize same-sex mar­riage in New York failed by a sur­pris­ingly wide mar­gin on Wednesday. In New Jersey, Democrats have declined to sched­ule the bill for a vote, believ­ing that the sup­port is no longer there. Voters in Maine last month repealed a state law allow­ing same-sex mar­riage des­pite advoc­ates’ advant­age in money and volunteers.

And on the other reli­ably lib­eral coast, California advoc­ates of gay mar­riage announced this week that they would not try in the next elec­tions to reverse the ban on gay mar­riage that voters approved in 2008; they did not believe they could succeed.

Gay mar­riage doesn’t appear to be some­thing that even lib­eral ‘bi-coastal’ America has much of a stom­ach for, let alone the God-fearing ‘fly­over’ States that of course make up most of the US.  So how earth did the US gay rights move­ment turn down this gay mar­riage cul-de-sac, appar­ently without a reverse gear? 

Even sup­port­ers of gay mar­riage say that all the optim­ism got ahead of the reality.

I think there was some over­read­ing of the polit­ical mar­ket­place for gay mar­riage,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic poll­ster. “It’s not so much that some­thing changed. There was a mis­read­ing of where the pub­lic was at.”

You don’t say.  Perhaps though it was not so much an ‘over­read­ing’ or ‘mis­read­ing’ but rather more a case of com­plete illit­er­acy.  I mean, who would have guessed that scream­ing ‘BIGOT!!’ at beauty queens for believ­ing, like most Americans, includ­ing President Obama, that mar­riage is between a man and a woman wasn’t going to be a ter­ribly per­suas­ive strategy? Whoever would have ima­gined that try­ing to blame black voters for California’s re-banning of gay mar­riage last year at the same time as try­ing to hijack their his­tory of civil rights struggle and pro­claim gays as ‘the new blacks’ wouldn’t play so well?  

And who could have pos­sibly con­ceived that self-righteously denoun­cing civil uni­ons, a much more polit­ic­ally achiev­able – and in my Limey Uncle Tom slut opin­ion also much more appro­pri­ate and mod­ern – insti­tu­tion for giv­ing same-sex couples legal pro­tec­tion as ‘rid­ing at the back of the bus!’, and instead going pell-mell after gay mar­riage and respect­ab­il­ity would have turned out to be such a tac­tical and stra­tegic blunder? 

Empowered by judi­cial decisions affirm­ing a con­sti­tu­tional right to gay mar­riage, begin­ning in Massachusetts in 2003, advoc­ates argued to move away from a strategy that had focused on more incre­mental change.

The gamble has not paid off,” Mr. Garin said.  “We leapfrogged from civil uni­ons to mar­riage, primar­ily as a res­ult of judi­cial decisions that were fol­lowed in some cases by legis­lat­ive action. But the real­ity is that the judi­cial decisions were sub­stan­tially ahead of pub­lic opin­ion, and still are.”

And, it might be added going pell-mell after gay mar­riage also helped George Bush get re-elected in 2004. Which as we know was such a won­der­ful out­come for every­one, gay or straight.

Mr Garin may be more clear-headed on this issue than many gay mar­riage advoc­ates, but the expres­sion ‘ahead of pub­lic opin­ion’ sounds to me like more ‘over­read­ing’.  Maybe most Americans don’t accept that a rela­tion­ship between two men – and after all, it is this double-penised aspect, not two wombs together, that the straight pub­lic think about — is ‘just the same’ as a rela­tion­ship between a man and a woman, not because they’re back­wards, or ignor­ant, or pre­ju­diced, but because, if you’re not blinded by lib­eral plat­it­udes, it clearly isn’t. 

And please, can someone over there point out, if only just to be really annoy­ing, that the assim­il­a­tion of the rad­ic­ally new phe­nomenon on mod­ern gay rela­tion­ships to the moribund insti­tu­tion of mar­riage with its repro­duct­ive role-playing, reli­gious fla­vour­ing, and his­tory of treat­ing women as chat­tel does not exactly rep­res­ent ‘progress’?

Fortunately, there’s one American homo left who isn’t Gore Vidal doing exactly this — though not of course in the NYT.  The nov­el­ist Bruce Benderson, inter­viewed by Christopher Stoddard in the latest issue of East Village Boys about his new book Pacific Agony makes some sali­ent points about male sexu­al­ity which the Andrea Sullivanized American gays don’t want to hear:

Bruce Benderson: I have a kind of old-fashioned idea about what a homo­sexual is, and I think it’s some­body who is made to live out­side the social norm. And the reason he was made to live out­side the social norm is because one of the main func­tions of the struc­ture of a social norm is to per­petu­ate the spe­cies, but I don’t think that’s a nat­ural thing for male homo­sexu­als. Not just homo­sexu­als, but men in gen­eral are nat­ur­ally too promis­cu­ous. It’s their rela­tion­ship with women that makes them more stable so that they can chan­nel it into build­ing a fam­ily. These gay couples are going around say­ing, “Oh, we’re just like you straight couples, really! We just hap­pen to be two men.” I don’t believe that. I think they’re different.

Christopher Stoddard: Okay, so you think that gay men are essen­tially sub­ject to “vice”?

BB: If you want to make that moral judg­ment… Suppose a bomb dropped and there were only 100 women and 1 man left. Well, the­or­et­ic­ally, that man could repop­u­late the spe­cies by impreg­nat­ing 100 women a year. Now, take 100 men and 1 woman after the bomb drops; we could only make 1 baby a year, okay? To per­petu­ate the spe­cies, men have been pro­grammed by evol­u­tion to be promis­cu­ous. Marriage is the social tam­ing of a man’s sexual ener­gies by a woman, which is neces­sary to build a social struc­ture. Because a man is made to screw more than one per­son, there’s nobody to stop him if he’s with just another man.

CS: You sound like the pro­ver­bial Repulican who believes that mar­riage should be between a man and a woman.

BB: I think that mar­riage should be illegal! Just like pledging to God should be illegal. Marriage is a sac­ra­ment that has abso­lutely noth­ing to do with the State, and it should have no legal status what­so­ever. A domestic part­ner­ship should be recog­nized by the State, and it should hinge on things like wills, joint tax fil­ing, inher­it­ance, things like that. And any two people should be able to do it. A mar­riage is just this left-over sac­ra­ment that some­how wiggled its way into legal status.

CS: You don’t believe that two men can be devoted to each other in a mono­gam­ous way and not cheat because of these car­nal needs?

BB: Correct. I believe two men can be totally devoted to each other, but it prob­ably won’t be in the same way that a man and a woman can be totally devoted to each other. I know sev­eral gay male couples who’ve been together a long time and go to the baths together, or they both go to one of those, you know, orgy places.

CS: I think I know who you mean. {chuckles}

BB: Yet they’re totally close, and they totally trust each other, and it’s a won­der­ful pairing.

Be care­ful, Bruce!  You can’t just go around talk­ing the truth about gay men in pub­lic!  Not if you want to be taken ser­i­ously, that is.

Gore Vidal Takes on The World — Again

Gore Old

God, I can’t help but love the old bas­tard.  Another tour-de-force from Gore Vidal (inter­viewed by Tim Teeman) appeared in The London Times last week, in which, as usual, he said so many things, so very loudly that so many people know to be true but daren’t begin to mumble.

This frail, crippled, dia­betic, alco­holic, eighty-three-year-old man repeatedly and ener­get­ic­ally Gores Obama, for his ‘dread­ful’ per­form­ance as President, decries how he has ‘fucked up’ health­care, and most par­tic­u­larly how he has allowed him­self to be rail­roaded by the mil­it­ary into con­tinu­ing the American Imperialist pro­ject, some­thing Vidal has hero­ic­ally ded­ic­ated his life to attack­ing. He also expresses his deep regret over dump­ing feisty Hillary, his first choice, for this smooth-talking ingénue dur­ing the Democratic Primaries:

Hillary knows more about the world and what to do with the gen­er­als. History has proven when the girls get involved, they’re good at it. Elizabeth I knew Raleigh would be a good man to give a ship to.”

Vidal sug­gests that he was beguiled — as many clearly were in the Democratic Party — by the his­toric if not actu­ally romantic appeal of a black man as President of the United States.  Particularly one that was much more intel­li­gent than his white pre­de­cessor; but seems to have been dis­ap­poin­ted even in that department.

Vidal ori­gin­ally became pro-Obama because he grew up in “a black city” (mean­ing Washington), as well as being impressed by Obama’s intel­li­gence. “But he believes the gen­er­als. Even Bush knew the way to win a gen­eral was to give him another star”.

He also dis­cusses, or rather, disses, gay mar­riage — a sub­ject I wasn’t alas able to cover when I inter­viewed him earlier this year for Arena Hommes Plus. When Teeman asks, ‘Has love been import­ant to him?’ he responds blisteringly:

Don’t make the error that school­teacher idi­ots make by think­ing that gay men’s rela­tion­ships are like het­ero­sexual ones. They’re not.”

This one, simple, obvi­ously true state­ment is of course com­plete heresy for mod­ern American gays — who aren’t listen­ing any­way since most of them prob­ably don’t even know who Gore Vidal is.  Which is in itself damning enough.

Vidal puts on a scorn­ful, campy voice. “People ask {of he and Austen, his life-long com­pan­ion who died last year}, ‘How did you live together so long?’ The only rule was no sex. They can’t believe that.…

No, because if you wish to pre­tend that two men liv­ing together is just like a man and woman liv­ing together you have to pre­tend to the same lies and illu­sions het­ero­sexu­als do.

He is single now. “I’m not into part­ner­ships,” he says dis­missively. I don’t even know what it means.” He “couldn’t care less” about gay mar­riage. “Does any­one care what Americans think? They’re the worst-educated people in the First World. They don’t have any thoughts, they have emo­tional responses, which good advert­isers know how to pro­voke.” You could have been the first gay pres­id­ent, I say. “No, I would have mar­ried and had nine chil­dren,” he replies quickly and ser­i­ously. “I don’t believe in these exclus­ive terms.”

They cer­tainly don’t make ‘em like that any more.

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.…

The Gay Case Against Gay Marriage and Gay Bigotry


By Mark Simpson (Guardian CIF, 30 April 2009)

Who would have guessed the dainty opin­ions of a Miss America can­did­ate would have been taken so ser­i­ously by gays and liberals?

Miss California, a prac­tising Christian, was last week denounced by Miss America judge Perez Hilton on his blog as ‘a dumb bitch’ and unworthy of the Miss America crown because she gave the ‘wrong’ answer to his chippy ques­tion about gay mar­riage. Like most Americans — includ­ing the cur­rent Democratic President of the United States — she believes that mar­riage is ‘between a man and a woman’. Boo! Hiss! Rip her to shreds!

It wasn’t just the fam­ously bitchy gay gossip-monger Hilton cast­ing stones, how­ever. For hon­estly and some­what cour­ageously answer­ing his ques­tion Miss California was roundly con­demned as a ‘bigot’ by hosts of gay and lib­eral blog­gers, and was even denounced by the dir­ect­ors of the Miss California pageant who declared them­selves ‘saddened’ by her views and that they had no place in the ‘Miss California fam­ily’, whatever that is. Most now agree with Hilton’s gloat­ing claim that her answer cost her the crown.

Candidate Obama expressed the exact same view dur­ing the Presidential Election: “I believe that mar­riage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it’s also a sac­red union. You know, God’s in the mix.” Instead of being scorned as a bigot and a dumb bitch, Obama was handed the Mr America crown by lib­er­als and prob­ably most gay voters. But I sup­pose that being President of the United States is a rather less import­ant title than Miss America.

Branding Christians and tra­di­tion­al­ists ‘big­ots’ for being Christians and tra­di­tion­al­ists and thus none too keen to fun­da­ment­ally revise the defin­i­tion of mar­riage is a highly unat­tract­ive exer­cise in lib­eral self-righteousness that makes Miss America look quite soph­ist­ic­ated. Not to men­tion sound­ing a lot like pots and kettles rat­tling. It’s faintly absurd to have to even say this, but it isn’t big­oted to believe that mar­riage is between a man and a woman. It’s just being con­ven­tional. And after all, mar­riage itself is con­ven­tion and tra­di­tion tied up in a big red bow and covered in con­fetti and sprinkled with Holy Water. Which is exactly why les­bi­ans and gays should have noth­ing to do with it.

Today’s out and proud same-sex rela­tion­ships are very uncon­ven­tional and a very new kind of phe­nomenon. And so are in fact many of today’s cross-sex rela­tion­ships in a brave new world of gender par­ity. Marriage on the other hand is an anti­quated, fail­ing insti­tu­tion based on inequal­ity and tra­di­tional roles. Much like Miss America.

Marriage is, whether you like it or not, also based on reli­gious sen­ti­ment: ‘God’s in the mix.’ Especially in a very reli­gious coun­try like America. And I have a hunch, based on mil­len­nia of viol­ent oppos­i­tion to sex that doesn’t pro­duce more Christians, that God is not going to sanc­tify ‘sod­omy’ any time soon.

New ways of liv­ing and lov­ing require new insti­tu­tions. Or in the words of the fam­ously unmar­ried Galilee car­penter and fisher of men: put new wine into new wine­skins. And keep the flip­pin’ Pharisees out of it. Or else you’ll end up with a tacky mess.

It needs to be said out loud that full civil uni­ons with the same legal rights and priv­ileges of mar­riage at both the State and Federal level, sup­por­ted by President Obama and many Republicans and even some right-wing evan­gel­ic­als — and the large major­ity of American voters — are not only much more polit­ic­ally achiev­able in the US than gay mar­riage, they are also a bet­ter fit for most same sex rela­tion­ships. What’s more they rep­res­ent an entirely dig­ni­fied way of side-stepping this end­less, unsightly domestic between lib­eral and con­ser­vat­ive, sec­u­lar and reli­gious, met­ro­pol­itan and rural America.

But instead, gay mar­riage zealots, many of whom admit that they them­selves don’t wish to get mar­ried, insist on char­ac­ter­ising civil uni­ons as ‘second class’, ‘social apartheid’ or ‘rid­ing at the back of the bus’. I’d like to think it was merely a ploy to make fully-recognised civil uni­ons more achiev­able, but many really seem to believe their own shrill pro­pa­ganda. Worse, they’ve made even more of a fet­ish of the word ‘mar­riage’ than the reli­gious right they rail against.

In the UK, where nation­ally recog­nised same-sex civil uni­ons with the same legal status as mar­riage — called civil part­ner­ships — were intro­duced in 2004 there is little or no appet­ite now for gay mar­riage. In my exper­i­ence few les­bi­ans or gays feel they are ‘rid­ing at the back of the bus’. Maybe because in many ways they’re actu­ally rid­ing at the front. It’s prob­ably only a mat­ter of time before gay civil part­ner­ships in the UK are made avail­able to all, as they are in France — where the vast major­ity of applic­a­tions are now made by cross-sex couples dis­en­chanted with tra­di­tional marriage.

What’s more, fully-recognised, open-to-all civil uni­ons are a fully-fledged sec­u­lar insti­tu­tion that helps to shore up a fra­gile sec­u­lar soci­ety. And make no mis­take, it is sec­u­lar­ism on which most of the — his­tor­ic­ally very, very recent — freedoms enjoyed by les­bi­ans and gays are based, along with those of women.

But so far the gay mar­riage cru­sade in the US doesn’t seem very inter­ested in any of this or les­sons it might learn from the exper­i­ence of other coun­tries. Instead it seems too busy prov­ing itself holier-than-thou. And less soph­ist­ic­ated than Miss America contestants.

Gay Civil Unions Replacing Straight Marriage in France

According to the Daily Telegraph, ninety per cent of French “solid­ar­ity pacts” a year, some 135,000 of them, are now being made between people of the oppos­ite sex, ‘des­pite them being designed for homo­sexu­als, who are not form­ally allowed to marry in France’.  Unlike in the UK, the Civil Solidarity Pacts, or PACS, are open to every­one, not just same sex­ers. The Telegraph lists some of the attrac­tions of PACS over mar­riage.  They

…take just 15 minutes and can be per­formed by a court clerk.

Just as sig­ni­fic­antly, they can be ended with a single let­ter from either part­ner, without any claims on the other’s money or property.

With divorce costs spiralling such a legal arrange­ment is par­tic­u­larly attract­ive to those poten­tially facing massive pay­outs if mar­riages fail.

The PACS provide near-identical fin­an­cial and admin­is­trat­ive pro­tec­tion as formal mar­riages, includ­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of provid­ing joint tax returns and enjoy­ing deductions.

French coun­cils also treat PACSed couples like mar­ried couples when assign­ing bene­fits or accommodation.

The PACS also allow couple to bypass social and Church con­ven­tions, many of which are viewed as out­dated by younger generations.

This lat­ter con­sid­er­a­tion should prob­ably be placed rather fur­ther up in the list.

Either way this news is yet another indic­a­tion that the gay American obses­sion with (polit­ic­ally impossible) mar­riage rather than (polit­ic­ally achiev­able) fully-recognised civil uni­ons — ‘rid­ing at the back of the bus!’ — is not just a giant tac­tical mis­take but also cul­tur­ally ret­ro­gress­ive, rather than the ‘giant leap for pro­gress’ and ‘equal­ity’ it is trum­peted as being by gay mar­riage zealots.  Marriage seems to be a very dull his­tor­ical cul de sac that even straight people don’t want to live on any more.

The French trend towards reject­ing mar­riage for civil partnerships/unions also illus­trates how unfair it is that British civil part­ner­ships are not open to every­one — just same sex couples.  The reason het­ero­sexu­als are denied that option is because when the legis­la­tion was being drawn up fears were expressed in Parliament that allow­ing het­eros the choice would ‘under­mine mar­riage’. (Which is rather reveal­ing — even the cham­pi­ons of mar­riage obvi­ously believe that mar­riage isn’t very appealing.)

But of course, mar­riage has under­mined itself. Recently released fig­ures in the UK show mar­riage is the most unpop­u­lar it’s ever been and sug­gest that the unwed will out­num­ber the wed within a year.

Milk Toast: How Van Sant Cut off Harvey’s Balls


By Mark Simpson

(Originally appeard on Guardian Unlimited, 28 Jan 2009)

If a bul­let should enter my brain, let it des­troy ever closet door.’ So says Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the gay act­iv­ist who became California’s first openly gay pub­lic offi­cial. Any con­cern that this may be a slightly melo­dra­matic state­ment is quelled of course by the know­ledge that Milk was fam­ously killed by a bul­let to the head in 1978 by a dis­gruntled, pos­sibly anti-gay col­league. So instead it becomes an epi­taph — and this film’s mar­ket­ing slogan.

Lauded by crit­ics, laden with no less than 8 Academy Film Award nom­in­a­tions, includ­ing Best Film, and Best Actor, lav­ished with praise from edit­or­i­als in straight and gay news­pa­pers, dir­ector Gus Van Sant’s Milk, recently released in the UK, is, every­one agrees, that aven­ging rico­chet from Harvey’s skull shoot­ing down pre­ju­dice, fear­ful­ness and dishonesty.

There’s only one small prob­lem, how­ever. It isn’t. With award-winning hypo­crisy, Milk actu­ally bundles Milk’s sexu­al­ity out of sight. This movie, far from ‘des­troy­ing every closet door’, builds a brand new bullet-proof one around it’s subject’s sex-life. Milk you see is liv­ing a lie.

Harvey Milk, the fam­ously horny middle-aged sexual liber­tarian in 1970s Free Love San Francisco, who com­bined cruis­ing and polit­ical cam­paign­ing — and had a taste for men half his age — is presen­ted in Milk as a seri­ally mono­gam­ous chap look­ing for The One to make house with. True, Harvey is allowed to be a bit flirty, but essen­tially Harvey is presen­ted to the world as a very domest­ic­ated Mary — apart, that is, from his polit­ical altru­ism and desire to battle homo­pho­bia which, sadly, stops him set­tling down into fully-fledged home-making bliss.

Likewise, apart from one safely post-coital scene, Mr Milk is allowed one brief, badly lit, gig­gly heavy pet­ting scene in his bed­room (the one place where prob­ably no one had sex in 1970s SF) — filmed in long shot from another room. I don’t really have any great interest in see­ing Sean Penn shag­ging in close up (ten or fif­teen years ago it would have been a dif­fer­ent story), but given the reluct­ance of the film to acknow­ledge Milk’s real, rad­ic­ally libid­inal life­style (you might just call it ‘slutty’) this just seems like more coy emas­cu­la­tion.  Come out, come out wherever you are — but only if you’re decent.

Apparently a bath­house scene was filmed, but it ended up on the cut­ting room floor. I have no idea whether this was Van Sant’s call or the studio’s, but with that snip Mr Milk was effect­ively spayed. Many gays and lib­er­als are indig­nant that Milk didn’t win a Golden Globe this January, but they should be more con­cerned the movie has no balls.

So why did it hap­pen? Why is the ‘closet-busting’ film about Harvey Milk so fear­ful of its subject’s own sex-life? His own mas­culin­ity? Well, partly because a glossing over of human details, espe­cially in regard to sex, is what becom­ing a saint usu­ally involves — even a gay one. But prob­ably the main reason why his sexu­al­ity has been bundled back in the closet is because that’s exactly what today’s US gay rights cam­paign­ers are doing with gay male sexu­al­ity itself in their cru­sade for gay mar­riage. In order to try and per­suade an uncon­vinced American pub­lic to sup­port gay mar­riage under the rub­ric of equal­ity, gay male rela­tion­ships are being presen­ted, rather disin­genu­ously, as ‘just the same’ as male-female ones.

Van Sant and oth­ers have even sug­ges­ted that if Milk had been released earlier it might have helped pre­vent the pas­sage of Proposition 8 last November, which re-banned gay mar­riage in California. Personally I think that’s absurdly far-fetched, but the wishful-thinking involved does give you some idea of how Harvey’s actual lived life has been appro­pri­ated to cur­rent polit­ical expedi­ency. Just as the cam­paign for gay mar­riage is some­times more about respect­ab­il­ity than equal­ity, Mr Milk’s his­tor­ical sexu­al­ity wasn’t respect­able enough for his hagi­o­graphy. So it was sur­gic­ally removed.

It’s impossible of course to know what Milk’s own atti­tude towards gay mar­riage would be today if he had lived — though whatever you do don’t men­tion that to the gay mar­riage zealots who have installed him as their pat­ron Saint - but it’s pretty clear that while he was alive he believed in rela­tion­ships as open as his closet door:

“As homo­sexu­als we can’t depend of the het­ero­sexual model”,’ Randy Shilts quotes him as say­ing in his bio­graphy The Mayor of Castro Street (a book which also doc­u­ments how many of Milk’s polit­ical and com­munity con­tacts were forged in bat­houses). ‘We grow up with the het­ero­sexual model, but we don’t have to pur­sue it. We should be devel­op­ing our own life­style. There’s no reason why you can’t love more than one per­son at a time. You don’t have to love them all the same. You love some more, some less and always be hon­est about where you’re at. They in turn can do the same thing, and it opens up a big­ger sphere”.’

When I tell you that middle-aged Milk was explain­ing to one 24 year-old lover in San Francisco why he had another even younger one in Los Angeles you may decide you find this view self-serving. You may find it inspir­ing. You may find it naïve. Or cour­ageous. Or immoral. Or real­istic. Or corny.

What’s not debat­able how­ever, is that this is how he lived his life and cre­ated his politics.

But you won’t find it in Van Sant’s pas­teur­ised Milk.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2009

Marry Me, Ms P — But Civilly

A little late –my brain turns to plum pud­ding dur­ing the fes­ter­ing sea­son — I’d like to flag up a sec­tion on gay mar­riage from the stand-up intel­lec­tual Camille Paglia’s December column on Salon.com. Mostly of course because it men­tions me in a flat­ter­ing fash­ion. (If you find mutual love-fests a little queasy, you may want to look away now.…)

Maybe because we’re both incur­able Freudians dog­mat­ic­ally wed­ded to his concept of uni­ver­sal bisexual respons­ive­ness, I con­sider Paglia a genu­inely free thinker. Something all-too rare on the left these days. She is also a power­ful, some­times lit­er­ally incan­des­cent writer with a mis­chiev­ous, kinky-booted pro­voc­at­ive sense of humour. Sexual Personae indeed. Above all, or per­haps below all, she has big, brass, Italianate balls. I’m in awe of them.

And so, whether they know it or not, are Salon read­ers — that’s why they line up in their hun­dreds every month to rail against ‘that crazy bitch’ and, the ulti­mate insult, appar­ently, ‘nar­ciss­ist’ on the let­ters page and demand she be sacked and paraded in chains through the streets of San Francisco oth­er­wise they’ll tear up their Salon party mem­ber­ship card. Again.

In her column Camille makes the case for civil uni­ons over gay mar­riage rather bet­ter than I do. In fact, my own view was very prob­ably influ­enced by my eager read­ing of her barn­storm­ing works back in the early 90s (they cer­tainly helped inspire the dis­sid­ent col­lec­tion ‘Anti-Gay’). As she writes in Salon:

My pos­i­tion has always been (as in “No Law in the Arena” in my 1994 book, “Vamps & Tramps”) that gov­ern­ment should get out of the mar­riage busi­ness. Marriage is a reli­gious concept that should be defined and admin­istered only by churches. The gov­ern­ment, a sec­u­lar entity, must insti­tute and guar­an­tee civil uni­ons, open to both straight and gay couples and con­fer­ring full legal rights and bene­fits. Liberal het­ero­sexu­als who pro­fess sup­port for gay rights should be urged to pub­licly shun mar­riage and join gays in the civil union movement.

In their dis­pleas­ure at the California vote, gay act­iv­ists have fomented anim­os­ity among African-Americans who voted for Proposition 8 and who reject any equi­val­ence between racism and homo­pho­bia. Do gays really want to split the Democratic coali­tion? I com­pletely agree with a hard-hitting piece by the British gay act­iv­ist Mark Simpson (which was for­war­ded to me by Glenn Belverio), “Let’s Be Civil: Marriage Isn’t the End of the Rainbow.” Simpson, who has been called “a skin­head Oscar Wilde,” is fam­ous among other things for a riv­et­ing 2002 Salon art­icle that put the term “met­ro­sexual” into world cir­cu­la­tion. I appre­ci­ate Simpson’s candor about how mar­riage is a very poor fit with the actual open life­style of so many gay men, which is far more rad­ical. Marriage may be desir­able for some gay men and women, but at what cost? Activists should have focused instead on remov­ing all imped­i­ments to equal­ity in civil uni­ons — such as the unjust denial of Social Security bene­fits to the sur­viv­ing part­ner in gay relationships.

(I’m not sure I’m much of a ‘gay act­iv­ist’, but ‘riv­et­ting’ sounds entirely accur­ate to me.)

While fully-equivalent civil uni­ons are much more polit­ic­ally achiev­able in the US than gay mar­riage, they are being mis­rep­res­en­ted as ‘second class’, ‘social apartheid’ or ‘rid­ing at the back of the bus’ by gay mar­riage zealots who seem obsessed with appro­pri­at­ing, or per­haps expro­pri­at­ing, the exper­i­ence of the black civil rights move­ment and present­ing homo­sexu­als as ‘the new blacks’. In the UK, where nation­ally recog­nised same-sex civil uni­ons with the same legal status as mar­riage, called civil part­ner­ships, were intro­duced a few years ago there is little or no appet­ite for gay mar­riage. Very few les­bi­ans or gays feel they are ‘rid­ing at the back of the bus’. Maybe because in many ways they’re actu­ally sit­ting at the front.

Modern same-sex rela­tion­ships are a new kind of insti­tu­tion. And so are many if not most of today’s cross-sex rela­tion­ships. Marriage is an anti­quated, fail­ing insti­tu­tion based on inequal­ity, tra­di­tional roles and reli­gious sen­ti­ment. That’s why it’s seen most as being between ‘a man and a woman’. This isn’t bigotry — it’s tra­di­tion. Which is what mar­riage is. In the words of the Galilee car­penter and fisher of men: put new wine into new wine­skins. And keep the fuck­ing Pharisees out of it. Or else you’ll end up with a tacky mess.

What’s more, fully-recognised, fully-equal — and fully open to all — civil uni­ons, would help to shore up our fra­gile sec­u­lar soci­ety. And make no mis­take, it is sec­u­lar­ism on which most of the (very recent) freedoms enjoyed by les­bi­ans and gays are based, as well as those of women in gen­eral, and also met­ro­sexual man.

Which reminds me: I dis­agree with Paglia’s con­tin­ued kick­ing of Hillary Clinton in the same column — per­haps there’s only room for one ‘ball-breaking’ 60s fem­in­ist in American pub­lic life — but she more than makes up for this with her plucky defence of spunky Sarah Palin against scold­ing, uni­vocal lib­eral snob­bery that con­tin­ues to lash against her and the red-state, rural America that she rep­res­ents. To do that any­where in the lib­eral press would be quite some­thing, but to do it on Salon, which dur­ing the elec­tion became a kind of spite­ful school­girl­ish diary of hatred towards the Republican Vice Presidential Candidate is well-nigh heroic. (Did any­one, any­where write any­thing about Joe Biden? Even when he fre­quently put his ‘expert’ foot in his ‘exper­i­enced’ bur­eau­cratic mouth?).

On this occa­sion, Paglia took umbrage with NYT colum­nist Dick Cavett’s piece ‘The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla’:

Cavett’s piece on Sarah Palin was insuf­fer­ably super­cili­ous. With drip­ping dis­dain, he sniffed at her “frayed syn­tax, bungled gram­mar and run-on sen­tences.” He called her “the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High,” “one who seems to have no first lan­guage.” I will pass over Cavett’s snig­ger­ing dis­missal of “soc­cer moms” as light­weights who should stay far, far away from government.

I was so out­raged when I read Cavett’s column that I felt like tak­ing to the air like a Valkyrie and drop­ping on him at his ocean retreat in Montauk in the chi­chi Hamptons. How can it be that so many highly edu­cated Americans have so little his­tor­ical and cul­tural con­scious­ness that they identify their own nat­ive patois as an eternal mark of intel­li­gence, tal­ent and polit­ical aptitude?

I love the image of La Paglia tak­ing to the air ‘like a Valkyrie’ and ‘drop­ping in’ on Cavett in his Montauk retreat. It would be a com­ic­ally uneven match. Despite an illus­tri­ous CV, Cavett’s prose reads as if one of Palin’s bagged, wall-mounted moose­heads had star­ted talking.

I sus­pect we will wait some time for Cavett’s column defend­ing American English from President Uh-bama’s phony-folksy way of talk­ing when inter­viewed. Because of course Harvard edu­cated Obama is being con­des­cend­ing, which is just fine, while ‘white trash’ Palin is being who she is, which is com­pletely unforgivable.

Let’s Be Civil: Gay Marriage Isn’t The End of the Rainbow

by Mark Simpson (A shorter ver­sion ori­gin­ally appeared on Guardian CIF November 2, 2008)

It’s bet­ter to marry than burn with pas­sion,” declared St Paul. But now mar­riage itself seems to have become a burn­ing issue — or at least, gay marriage.

The re-banning of gay mar­riage in California earlier this month with the pas­sage of Proposition 8 has been presen­ted by gay mar­riage advoc­ates as a vicious body-blow for gay rights. Angry gay people and their allies have pro­tested across the US, some reportedly even riot­ing. The timely release of the Gus Van Sant movie Milk, about the murder in 1977 of Harvey Milk, the US’s first out elec­ted offi­cial, has fuelled the sense of gay out­rage and defi­ance. Surely only a hate­ful bigot like the one that gunned down Harvey would be opposed to gay marriage?

Gay mar­riage is the touch­stone of gay equal­ity, appar­ently. Settling for any­thing less is a form of Jim Crow style gay segreg­a­tion and second-class citizenship.

But not all gays agree. This one for instance sees gay mar­riage not so much as a touch­stone as a fet­ish. A largely sym­bolic and emo­tional issue that in the US threatens to under­mine real, non-symbolic same-sex couple pro­tec­tion: civil uni­ons bestow in effect the same legal status as mar­riage in sev­eral US states — includ­ing California. As a res­ult of the reli­gious right’s mobil­isa­tion against gay mar­riage, civil uni­ons have been rolled back in sev­eral US states.

Perhaps the les­son of Proposition 8 is not that most straight people think gay people should sit at the back of the bus, but that if you take on reli­gion and tra­di­tion on its hal­lowed turf — and that is what mar­riage effect­ively is — you’re highly likely to lose.  Even in lib­eral California.

Maybe I shouldn’t carp, liv­ing as I do in the UK, where civil part­ner­ships with equal legal status to mar­riage have been nation­ally recog­nised since 2004. But part of the reason that civil part­ner­ships were suc­cess­fully intro­duced here was because they are civil part­ner­ships not “mar­riages” (the UK is a much more sec­u­lar coun­try than the US, and some­what more gay-friendly too — but even here gay mar­riage would almost cer­tainly not have passed).

At this point I’d like to hide behind the, erm, for­mid­able fig­ure of Sir Elton John, who also expressed doubts recently about the fix­a­tion of US gay cam­paign­ers on the word ‘mar­riage’, and declared he was happy to be in a civil part­ner­ship with the Canadian David Furnish and did not want to get mar­ried. Needless to say, Mr John wasn’t exactly thanked for speak­ing his mind by gay mar­riage advocates.

But amidst all the gay gnash­ing of teeth about the inequal­ity of Proposition 8 it’s worth ask­ing: when did mar­riage have any­thing to do with equal­ity? Respectability, cer­tainly. Normality, pos­sibly. Stability, hope­fully. Very hope­fully. But equality?

First of all, there’s some­thing gay people and their friends need to admit to the world: gay and straight long-term rela­tion­ships are gen­er­ally not the same. How many het­ero­sexual mar­riages are open, for example? In my exper­i­ence, many if not most long term male-male rela­tion­ships are very open indeed. Similarly, sex is not quite so likely to be turned into repro­duc­tion when your gen­it­als are the same shape. Yes, some gay couples may want to have chil­dren, by adop­tion or other means, and that’s fine and dandy of course, but chil­dren are not a con­sequence of gay con­jug­a­tion. Which has always been part of the appeal for some.

More fun­da­ment­ally who is the “man” and who is the “wife” in a gay mar­riage? Unlike cross-sex couples, same-sex part­ner­ships are part­ner­ships between nom­inal equals without any bio­lo­gic­ally, divinely or even cul­tur­ally determ­ined reproductive/domestic roles. Who is to be “given away”? Or as Elton John, put it: “I don’t wanna be anyone’s wife”.

It’s increas­ingly unclear even to het­ero­sexu­als who is the “man” and who is the “wife”, who should cleave to the other’s will and who should bring home the bacon. That’s why so many today intro­duce their hus­band or wife as “my part­ner”. The fam­ous excep­tion to this of course was Guy Ritchie and his mis­sus, Madonna — and look what happened to them. Pre-nuptial agree­ments, very pop­u­lar with celebs (though not, appar­ently, with Guy and Madonna), rep­res­ent the very real­istic step of divor­cing before you get mar­ried — like plastic sur­gery, this is a hard-faced celeb habit that’s going mainstream.

If Christians and tra­di­tion­al­ists want to pre­serve the “sanc­tity” of mar­riage as some­thing between a man and a woman, with all the mumbo jumbo that entails, let them. They only hasten the col­lapse of mar­riage. Instead of demand­ing gay mar­riage, in effect try­ing to mod­ern­ise an increas­ingly moribund insti­tu­tion, maybe les­bian and gay people should push for civil part­ner­ships to be opened to every­one, as they are in France — where they have proved very popular.

I sus­pect civil part­ner­ships, new, sec­u­lar, lit­er­ally down-to-earth con­tracts between two equals, rel­at­ively free of the bag­gage of tra­di­tion, ritual and unreal­istic expect­a­tions, would also prove very pop­u­lar with cross-sex couples in the Anglo world at a time when the insti­tu­tion of mar­riage is the most unpop­u­lar it’s ever been among people who aren’t actu­ally gay. Yes, cross-sex couples can have civil mar­riage cere­mon­ies, but they’re still mar­riages, not part­ner­ships. If made open to every­one, civil part­ner­ships might even­tu­ally not just be an altern­at­ive to mar­riage. Marriage might end up being some­thing left to Mormons.

Perhaps my scep­ti­cism about gay mar­riage and mar­riage in gen­eral is down to the fact that I’m ter­min­ally single. Perhaps it’s all just sour grapes. Or maybe I prefer to burn with pas­sion than marry. After all, St Paul’s viol­ently ascetic world-view which regarded mar­riage as a poor runner-up to chastity, also ensured that the Christian Church would burn sod­om­ites like kind­ling for centuries.

Either way, I think it needs to be men­tioned amidst all this shout­ing about gay domest­icity that, import­ant as it is to see les­bian and gay couples recog­nised and given legal pro­tec­tion, prob­ably most gay men (though prob­ably not most les­bi­ans) are single and prob­ably will be single for most of their lives. With or without civil partnerships/unions.

Or even the magical, sym­bolic power of gay marriage.

Postscript: The Voice of Gay America responds — loudly.

Is There Sex After Marriage?

A remark­ably, refresh­ingly reas­on­able treat­ment of the Spitzer scan­dal and the indis­pens­able social role of pros­ti­tutes by a woman, Minette Marin, in The London Times (if a straight man had writ­ten this he would prob­ably have faced a lengthy free sex ban):

Right up and down the scale, a man can rent a girl a great deal bet­ter and more coöper­at­ive than the woman he lives with. She will be prob­ably be much more sexu­ally exper­i­enced and more accom­plished than most wives too. In plain English, or so I am told by per­fectly nice men, pros­ti­tutes tend to be bet­ter at it. They tend to be younger and more ener­getic. They are also pre­pared to do things which her indoors might draw the line at. Some pros­ti­tutes provide tender lov­ing care, too; the fam­ous madam Cynthia Payne provided her sub­urban cli­ents with com­fort food after the act in the form of poached eggs on toast.

The other awk­ward fact, which most people must know, but some­how prefer to ignore, is that men often prefer sex without a rela­tion­ship. Perhaps that is wrong of them, but one must con­cede that rela­tion­ships can be wear­ing, par­tic­u­larly mar­riage, and some­times a man just wants time out, and sex without strings is clearly a source of great pleas­ure, at least for men. If you were an evol­u­tion­ary bio­lo­gist you might argue that unfettered sex is entirely nat­ural to men. One might at least agree that hogam­ous higam­ous, man seems to be a bit polygamous.

Prostitution, like cruis­ing, is some­thing that makes the insti­tu­tion of mar­riage tol­er­able for many men who oth­er­wise wouldn’t be able to meet its rather exact­ing stand­ards. No strings, slutty sex out­side mar­riage might, for many men, be the only kind of sex there is. For them, sex inside mar­riage is per­haps the abnor­mal­ity. ‘Where they love they do not desire and where they desire they can­not love’, as Dr Freud put it. Such is the nature of much male sexu­al­ity — for which, of course, quite a few women wish to con­demn men as a species.

Gay mar­riage may have had a lot of press lately, along with the con­sol­ing idea that homos are becom­ing home­bod­ies, but what is rather less pub­li­cised is that gay male mar­riage is, by defin­i­tion, a much more ‘real­istic’ arrange­ment than the tra­di­tional vari­ety. Because it involves two men, they usu­ally don’t hold each other up to such exact­ing sexual stand­ards. They can’t kid them­selves — or each other. Truth be told, the easy­going atti­tude of many gay part­ners towards sex out­side the rela­tion­ship — and the use of online cruis­ing sites like Gaydar — would be intol­er­able for most het­ero­sexual women, and many het­ero­sexual men for that matter.

Male cruis­ing pro­duces even more hys­teria and hypo­crisy than pros­ti­tu­tion — when it involves a man mar­ried to a woman. In the midst of all the loudly pro­claimed sanc­ti­mony over Spitzer’s use of call girls, no one is sug­gest­ing that the former NY Governor is obvi­ously a con­gen­ital vis­itor of pros­ti­tutes and this this is the truth of who he is and hence his mar­riage must have been a com­plete sham from day one and in fact his whole life has been a lie.

No, that’s some­thing reserved for Senators bus­ted in dubi­ous air­port rest-room entrap­ments.

The trouble with men — or rather, ‘The trouble with gay men’

Why can’t gay men grow up? Why can’t they get them­selves a nice cat instead of behav­ing like dirty dogs? Why can’t they listen to Radio Four more instead of trawl­ing the net for sex? Why don’t they get a pipe and slip­pers instead of thongs and crys­tal meth? Why can’t they stop being so damn undo­mestic­ated and be more… les­bian?

And why oh why can’t gays settle down with nice Simon Fanshawe, espe­cially when he’s done so much for them? Surely they could have drawn straws and alloc­ated him some­body? Or maybe set up a rota?

The Trouble With… Gay Men TV polemic presen­ted by Fanshawe recently on BBC3, took ‘gay men’ to task for still ‘behav­ing like rebel­li­ous teen­agers’ des­pite now ‘being accep­ted as equals by soci­ety’ and was one of the fun­ni­est pro­grammes I’ve seen in ages. Unfortunately for comedian-turned-busybody Fanshawe, the humour was mostly unintentional.

There’s not really much point in ser­i­ously deal­ing with his argu­ment as there wasn’t one, instead there was just an hour-long Grumpy Old Gay Man Special in which Fanshawe went round London and Brighton’s gay scene feebly tut­ting and har­rumph­ing at gay men’s van­ity, promis­cu­ity, drug-use, and fail­ure to settle down and make cur­tains – des­pite all the ster­ling work people like him and the Stonewall Group have done to make homo­sexu­al­ity respect­able and suburban.

At one point, instead of even pre­tend­ing to offer an argu­ment, Fanshawe merely wandered shiftily around the dodgems on Brighton pier while a lot of head­less stat­ist­ics about gay drug use and STD infec­tion rates were flashed on the screen. Great telly, that.

Even this wit­less approach might have worked – after all, no one could ser­i­ously deny that the gay scene is foun­ded on ques­tion­able habits, and even the keen­est hedon­ist tires of his vices from time to time. But only if Fanshawe hadn’t presen­ted it. 

Hilariously, this middle-aged moral mary moan­ing about muscle marys was the best argu­ment for a life of untram­melled irre­spons­ib­il­ity, super­fi­ci­al­ity and fleshly obses­sion. I’ll bet that after the pro­gramme aired the gay gyms, saunas and back-rooms in London had a major rush on, and crystal-meth deal­ers were work­ing overtime.

Even I, who recently moved to North Yorkshire in part to get away from urban gay­ness, and also give it a chance to get away from me, felt the urge to change into some­thing less com­fort­able and take a taxi all the way to Soho.

More to the point, it became rap­idly appar­ent that this par­agon of the com­munity who kept denoun­cing gay men’s fail­ure to ‘grow up’ was him­self suf­fer­ing from a form of arres­ted devel­op­ment. Clearly he’d never pro­gressed bey­ond the point of being the bossy fat girl at school with the clip­board who thought they were God because they’d be put in charge of the school din­ner queue.

And what was all that whin­ing about the lack of ‘role mod­els’? Why should gay men have someone to copy? Why should they be so spe­cial?  Grow up and do it your­self, like every­one else has to these days.

Now, I’m all in favour of more self-criticism in the gay world, and being beastly to gays is some­thing I’m rather fond of. After all I did edit Anti-Gay back in 1996, the book which gave a bunch of chippy non-heterosexuals the oppor­tun­ity to take on the sac­red ortho­dox­ies of the gay world and gay iden­tity, or at least the gay press, and gen­er­ally have a good whinge. (And which was, fun­nily enough, viol­ently denounced by the gay press).

But this pro­gramme wasn’t tak­ing on mind­less con­form­ity, gay self-censorship, or feel­good pro­pa­ganda, instead it seemed to be about one middle-aged middle class man’s exas­per­a­tion at how gays have let him down by being so, well, gay, and his cor­res­pond­ing des­per­a­tion to pre­scribe a one-sized-fits-all homo-counties iden­tity. Fanshawe is only exer­cised by gay bad habits because he’s so trans­par­ently even more des­per­ate for respect­ab­il­ity than he is for a boyfriend.

Hence the shame­less mug­ging to cam­era dur­ing his visit to a gay sauna, pre­tend­ing to be shocked by a sling, or not know­ing what ‘water­s­ports’ means. Who were the appalled-of-Tunbridge-Wells looks for? The gay men the pro­gramme was ostens­ibly aimed at? The gay men who appar­ently spend all their time in saunas like this? Clearly not.

Ironically, the people that Fanshawe was really address­ing – straight TV pro­du­cers look­ing for a nice respect­able gay presenter and ‘role model’ – also know what slings and water­s­ports are, and in fact were prob­ably lying in one being peed on whilst they watched the programme.

Again and again Fanshawe showed him­self as someone with an almost endear­ing naiv­ety about the real, grown-up world, let alone the gay one, as he went around pos­ing as the adult voice of the real­ity prin­ciple. Visiting a Mr Gay UK heat he dis­missed the oiled-up con­test­ants as ‘super­fi­cial’, ‘pathet­ic­ally deluded’ and ‘vain’. I won­der if he’s taken a look at young straight men lately. In fact, it was blind­ingly obvi­ous that the main prob­lem with the gays he was talk­ing to was not that they were vain, but that they had noth­ing to be vain about – a skinny bunch of mun­ters who would be laughed out of the gym by most straight lads.

And what was Fanshawe’s answer to all this vain, promis­cu­ous, drug tak­ing? An inspir­a­tional trip to the feet of ‘role model’ Chief Inspector Brian Paddick, ‘one of the most senior police­men in the coun­try! And he’s gay!’ dur­ing which Fanshawe made it embar­rass­ingly clear he’d love noth­ing more than to be Mrs Paddick and attend the Chief Inspector’s Balls.

Strangely, there was no men­tion of that trouble­some ex who went to the papers to pro­claim he and Paddick often took drugs together in the Chief Inspector’s house, and who also claimed that Paddick was a reg­u­lar vis­itor to gay saunas (Paddick has denied both these claims).

Then came the chaste cli­max of this hour-long pro­gramme, the sum­mit of everything that Fanshawe says gays should be aim­ing for and the answer to all the prob­lems he had decried: two chubby inof­fens­ive gays in a coun­try house choos­ing what chocol­ate cake they were going to have at their regis­tra­tion reception.

Now, I’m sure they’re nice enough fel­las, but if they had known that they were going to be flaunted by Fanshawe as the ulti­mate role mod­els for gays every­where, the com­puls­ory ideal for all — not simply one option amongst many — and the won­der cure for all that mean­ing­less sex, drug use and exist­en­tial angst then maybe they would have had second thoughts about appear­ing on this pro­gramme. Or at least they might have tried to look a bit happier.

The real prob­lem with gay men, even the campest vari­ety, is that they’re men. Men without wombs in their lives to take respons­ib­il­ity for or slow them down – or give life a point. But instead, lots of testoster­one and spunk and spare time. It’s this that makes them homo. Why do so many gay men have so much sex and take so many drugs, often – and this is some­thing Fanshawe utterly failed to acknow­ledge – even when they are in a relationship?

Because they can.

I’m not par­tic­u­larly recom­mend­ing promis­cu­ity or drugs – and who, frankly, gives a fly­ing fuck whether I do or don’t, But I can tell you in no uncer­tain terms that neither Simon Fanshawe, nor Brian Paddick, nor gay regis­tra­tions, nor even really expens­ive chocol­ate wed­ding cake are going to per­suade homos to become neutered heterosexuals.

© Mark Simpson