Isherwood

The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood & Don Bachardy

Reviewed by Mark Simpson in The Independent (20/9/13)

Contrary to what the pop songs tell you, the language of love is not universal. It really isn’t the same the world over or even on the same street. Everyone’s love affair is utterly unintelligible to everyone else. It’s perhaps the whole point of having one.

Which can make reading other people’s love letters a baffling if not slightly pointless experience. Katherine Bucknell’s The Animals (Chatto & Windus), a collection of letters between the famous British-born novelist Christopher Isherwood and his lover the American portrait artist Don Bachardy, who lived together openly as a gay couple in Hollywood at a time when most were closeted, isn’t pointless. But love does speak in animal tongues. Cloying Beatrix Potter animal tongues.

Bachardy, who was just eighteen when a 48 year old Isherwood met him on a Santa Monica Beach in 1952, is ‘Kitty’, ‘Fluffcat’, ‘The Fur’, ‘Catkin’, ‘Sweetpaws’, ‘Dearest Darling Puss’, ‘Sweetcat’, ‘Snowpuss’, ‘Angel Lovecat’, ‘Velvetpaws’, ‘Sacred Pinkness’, ‘Sweet Longed-For Flufftail’, ‘Pink Paws’, ‘Beloved Fluffpuss’, ‘Whitewhiskers’, and ‘Claws’ (the latter epithet being perhaps the most salient to this reader of Bachardy’s waspish missives).

Isherwood for his part is ‘Horse’, ‘Drub’, ‘Drubbin’, ‘Rubbin’, ‘Dobbin’, ‘Old Pony’, ‘Dear Treasured Love-Dub’, ‘Slickmuzzle’, ‘Naggin’, ‘Drudgin’, ‘Drubchen’, and ‘Dearnag’. If this seems an unfair distribution of gushy epithets this is because it was meant to be. As Bachardy wrote in a letter dated 6 Feb 1961:

‘The horse Kitty loves has always been an old grey mare, so sweet and dear and never one of those greedy and faithless white stallions. And besides grey is more becoming to Kitty’s white fur. Two white animals would never do.’

The language of love may be unique to each couple, but one rule of sexual syntax everyone understands: there’s only room for one prima donna in one relationship.

Like many gay relationships, Bachardy and Isherwood’s was open though, perhaps understandably given the large age difference, more so on Bachardy’s side. ‘Dobbin’ often encourages ‘Kitty’ to enjoy strange saucers of cream, but is always anxious that Kitty return to his ‘basket’ and the primacy of their relationship not be threatened: ‘Dobbin is only happy if Kitty finds consolation – ONLY NOT TOO MUCH!’ Many of the letters resulted from separation caused by Bachardy’s prolonged dalliances with others abroad, such as the London theatre director Anthony Page.

Isherwood – who had a pronounced fear of the dark and hated being alone at night – attempts to explain and justify their campy, furry archetypes in a letter dated March 11, 1963:

‘I often feel that the Animals are far more than just a nursery joke or a cuteness. They exist. They are like Jung’s myths. They express a kind of freedom and truth which we otherwise wouldn’t have.’

The irony for the reader is that this is stated in a letter, written immediately after a face-to-face row, which dispenses with the Kitty-Dobbin shtick and stands out as perhaps the most direct, heartfelt and unmannered letter in the collection – and one that suggests that much of the time, like many couples, they are not so free or true after all. As Isherwood writes:

‘Oh – I am so saddened and depressed when I get a glimpse, as I do so clearly this morning, of the poker game we play so much of the time, watching each other’s faces and listening to each other’s voices for clues. I was so happy the other day when you said that about Dobbin having been a jailer and now being a convict…. Masochism? Oh, Mary – what do I care what it’s called.’

In her excellent introduction Bucknell does a skilful and brave job of trying to interpret the lovers’ talk for the reader. Apparently Bachardy reminded Isherwood of his younger self – and indeed there was a remarkably strong, possibly slightly disturbing physical similarity. The letters end in 1970, and Isherwood died in 1986, survived by Bachardy.

But thanks to The Animals Isherwood’s devotion lives on. As a typical sign-off from Dobbin put it:

‘Love from a devoted old horse who is waiting day and night with his saddle on, ready for his Kitty’s commands.’

Tom Daley

Reset the Gaydar – Tom Daley’s ‘Not Gay’

Tom Daley showering

(Originally appeared on Guardian CiF, 11/09/13)

Tom Daley isn’t gay. But the bronze medallist Olympic diver and presenter of celebrity Speedo show Splash! – recently voted ‘World’s Sexiest Man’ by the readers of gay mag Attitude – doesn’t mind if you think he is. Last weekend he told The Mirror:

“I think it’s funny when people say I’m gay… I laugh it off,” says Tom… “I’m not. But even if I was, I wouldn’t be ashamed. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest what people thought.’

Quite a few gay pals of mine know better. Not because of any special ‘inside information’ gleaned from the gay grapevine mind, but simply because they ‘can tell’. Because they’ve seen him on telly they seem to know his sexual orientation better than Daley does himself. Maybe it’s because he smiles a lot, takes care over his appearance, is well-mannered and loves his mum. Or maybe it’s because he doesn’t have a girlfriend at the moment.

But whatever the reason I suspect many of them might be rather less convinced – or interested in expressing an opinion at all – if Tom didn’t look hot in a pair of spectacularly abbreviated swimming trunks.

This kind of gay insistence about Daley’s sexuality (and other pretty boys in the public eye, such as the Olympic gymnast and Strictly star Louis Smith) isn’t malicious, in fact it’s meant very affectionately. But unlike Daley I’m not quite so inclined to laugh it off. In a sense it’s the ‘friendly fire’ version of the homophobic tweets Daley has experienced, and the bullying which made him change schools. Unintentionally it reinforces straight-and-narrow and increasingly obsolete ideas about what boys should and shouldn’t be – if they don’t conform to that then they ‘must’ be gay. Though in the snuggly sense of ‘one of us’ – rather than the phobic sense of ‘one of them’.

Perhaps, for the sake of argument, despite what he actually says Daley ‘really’ is gay, or bisexual. Perhaps he’s currently kidding himself, or us – or both. But so what if he is? He’s nineteen. People should be prepared let Tom be Tom and not project their own past onto his present.

Although gay people – myself included – often pride themselves on their ‘gaydar’, their ability to ‘spot’ another gay person, it’s a very imprecise instrument and getting more so all the time. Now that the streets are awash with pretty, moussed, moisturised, gym-toned young men in pastel colours that look like they’re auditioning to be in One Direction – and who, like boy band stars don’t mind showing physical affection for one another – the poor old gaydar is getting very jammed indeed. Perhaps it’s time to turn it off, or at least dial it down a bit. Particularly since Grindr is a much more accurate detection system.

In a world where being gay – or looking gay – is no longer such a big deal, a world that gay people worked hard to bring about, perhaps we shouldn’t make such a big deal out whether someone ‘really’ is or isn’t any more. Especially if they’re as generous with their fit body as Daley. (Who, by the way, was born the same year as the metrosexual.)

Like many lads today Daley clearly loves to be looked at – and he has way of showering after a dive in front of billions that is, shall we say, very sensual. It’s part of the reason he welcomes the gaze of gays. As he told The Mirror.

“I can understand why I have a massive gay following – I spend most of my life half naked in trunks on a diving board showing off my bare chest.

“I often joke I wear more to bed than I do to work.”

Being voted the sexiest guy in the world by a gay magazine (Daley’s aesthetic daddy David Beckham was runner-up) might result in your straight mates ‘gently taking the mick’ as Daley reports, but in this age of rampant male tartiness, in which almost every straight male athlete that doesn’t look like the back end of a bus has been on the cover of a gay mag in their knickers, they’re probably more than a tad jealous too.

 

Update – Tom Daley Comes Out – As Happy

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 continuum are men who self-identify as “mostly straight” as opposed to labels like “straight,” “gay” or “bisexual.”  They acknowledge some level of attraction to other men even as they say that they probably wouldn’t act on it, but … the right guy, the right day, a few beers and who knows. As the professor points out, you would never have heard that in years past.’

An A ++ to Dr Savin-Williams. Not so long ago, when Heterosexuality was a proper belief system that commanded round-the-clock obeisance, ‘mostly straight’ would have been a heretical contradiction in terms – like half pregnant. But in this Brave New World of male neediness it’s just a statement of where we’re at.

For today’s young men the fear of faggotry is fast being replaced by the fear of missing out.

Tip: Dermod Moore

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

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What a carry on in the dark!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So two facts finally emerge from the bushes:

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

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

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

—–

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


UPDATE 2008: PCC Complaint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE 14/02/13

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

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

Larry Craig: the Deep Fried Famous Potato

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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 – divining your innermost desires, making identifications on your behalf and working 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).

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, don’t’ 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 door of this married-with-grandkids Republican’s been locked in by the media – and his own ‘moment of madness’ – yelling, ‘COME OUT!! YOU’RE GAY, YOU GODDAM HYPOCRITE!! YOU’RE SHOWING A CALLOUS LACK OF VESTED SELF-INTEREST TO YOUR LGBT COMMUNITY!!’.

I want your sex: why the press can’t leave George Michael’s manhood alone

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Why are the gentlemen of the popular press so interested in George Michael’s manhood?  Why won’t they leave it alone?

In 1998, after stalking him for years, in a painful pincer movement with Beverly Hills Police Department’s finest, they finally succeeded in catching him short in a men’s toilet. Now they despatch a flash photographer to follow him up to Hampstead Heath’s cruising area at 2am and then plaster the results all over the front page.

No wonder Michael angrily turned to the snapper and snapped: ‘Are you gay?  No?  Well f**K off then!’

Personally, I’ve never been that interested in George Michael’s toilet parts. I used to live a mile or so away from Hampstead Heath and cruised it myself many times (before the internet spoilt everything), and have seen Mr Michael down there – but we never bumped uglies.

The tabs appear most shocked by the fact that Mr Michael ‘who could have anyone’ allegedly chose to have fun in the dark, in the bushes with an unemployed 58-year-old pot-bellied man who lives ‘in a squalid flat in Brighton’. Yes, how awful. What a terrible crime. Perhaps he should have shagged the straight flash photographer instead? We know he has a much better paid job.

Of course, there’s more hypocrisy wafting across this story than poppers on a warm Saturday night on the Heath.  Michael is lambasted for his ‘sick’ and ‘sordid’ ‘crazy’ and ‘addicted’ behaviour and advised to ‘seek counselling’ (plus rather a lot of barely-disguised queer-bashing incitement in the form of ‘warnings’ that he ‘could get his throat cut’).  But part of reason why the tabs are so interested in this story – and why they can’t leave George’s penis alone – is precisely because many if not most men can perfectly understand the appeal of anonymous, no-strings, no-romance sex.

It is this freely-available aspect of the homo demi-monde which most fascinates many straight men. Because they usually have to pay for it. Unless they’re very lucky.

In the same issue of the NOTW that exposed George Michael’s ‘sick’ behaviour one of the stars of reality TV show BAD LADS’ ARMY (someone whom I would like to bump uglies with) bragged that he had had sex with nearly 500 women before he reached the age of 21 and would often pick up three women a day on holiday.

Now, I’m guessing that with those stats their age, their looks and their employment status weren’t exactly major considerations. Naturally, the article was as admiring and envious of this laddish behaviour as it was condemning of Michael’s. What’s sauce for the straight goose should be sauce for the gay gander.

This is something that Michael successfully argued himself after he was caught in that Beverly Hills lavatory in 1998. His single ‘Outside’ sang the praises of public sex. It was probably precisely his success in turning around this humiliation that embittered the tabs against him. The tabs hate it when tthey’reout-tabbed by their victims.

Inevitably, Michael’s long-term partner was mentioned in the Hampstead Heath expose to give a veneer of journalistic value to the story, but in fact Michael has been very frank about the ‘open’ nature of his relationship.  This is a degree of honesty with the world that few celeb gay couples show – even though many of them are in relationships more open than 7-Eleven.

Michael’s visit to Hampstead Heath just before a major comeback tour, wasn’t very clever, wasn’t terribly grown-up, and it may or may not be a sign of ‘compulsive’ behaviour, but it is certainly not a matter of national importance. Or even terribly interesting.

Male sexuality, gay or straight, is not very easily domesticated. If it were, then the tabloids would be the first to go out of business.

And Hampstead Heath wouldn’t be so busy at 2am. Even if nowadays newspaper photographers compulsively cruising for a story outnumber the punters.