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.’

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

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

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

Tip: Dermod Moore

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


What a carry on in the dark!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So two facts finally emerge from the bushes:

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

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

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


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

UPDATE 2008: PCC Complaint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE 14/02/13

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

The Gay Bomb covers the US Air Force in glory

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

Armed and Amorous

by Mark Simpson (Guardian, June 13 2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Mark Simpson 2007

Larry Craig: the Deep Fried Famous Potato






by Mark Simpson

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

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

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

Judging by the rush to ‘out’ Craig as a ‘hypo­crit­ical closeted gay’ by hordes of cal­lous blog­gers and colum­nists, and the scorn poured on his claims that he’s not gay, it seems that lib­er­als are equipped with even bet­ter and stricter sex­poli­cing instincts than Minnesota’s Finest. Liberals don’t just fin­ger your col­lar, they fin­ger your soul — 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!! YOURE GAY, YOU GODDAM HYPOCRITE!! YOURE 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


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 LADSARMY (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.