Shameless Slashiness

I’m not much of a Robbie Williams fan. ‘Bromance’ leaves me cold. And I hated Brokeback Mountain. But per­haps I’m a big softy really because I rather like this video for Williams’ single ‘Shame’ which brings all these themes together, adds a hairy Gary Barlow, Robbie’s once-reviled Take That col­lab­or­ator, and takes its top off. What was it Dusty said? ‘The best part of break­ing up is when you’re mak­ing up’

Yes, the ‘Toys R Us’ line is a real clanger, a reminder of Robbie’s gurn­ing, annoy­ing­ness, and the song is a little bland. But the video suc­ceeds, just about, in bring­ing it alive. Despite the com­plaints of some gays that the promo ‘mocks’ Brokeback Mountain there’s a real sense of long­ing and intim­acy in the way they look at one another that is almost more con­vin­cing than much of what appeared in the movie it’s ‘spoof­ing’. Or, to be hon­est, in many gay male relationships.

Actually this promo’s not really ‘bromance’ at all, which is almost defined by its snig­ger­ing, para­lys­ing fear of any­thing phys­ical – it’s a know­ingly slashy pop promo video: man­love for the ladies (and the gays). It plays on both the ‘gay­ness’ of Take That, who, des­pite the leather har­nesses, disco and baby oil — and the fantas­ies of many of their fans — were prob­ably all straight (more or less), and the fam­ously pas­sion­ate love-hate and now love-again affair between Barlow and Williams. Though of course, for all the looks and strip­ping off they don’t ‘take the plunge’. Which is a bit of a relief, frankly.  And in its way rather less cow­ardly than ‘gay cow­boy romance’ Brokeback Mountain’s five seconds of darkly-lit tent sex.

But that end­ing to ‘Shame’, in which Robbie and Gary run to the top of a cliff to jump into the water below (but chicken out) seems to ref­er­ence a much older and bet­ter cow­boy romance – the fam­ous scene in Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid where Robert Redford and Paul Newman laugh­ingly jump into the river together to escape a pur­su­ing posse.  Butch Cassidy was a favour­ite of early slash­ers – ‘strange’ ladies who liked to bring out the homo­erotic sub­text of main­stream movies, TV shows and bands, and per­haps of male het­ero­sexu­al­ity itself, and make them the text, some­times with eye-popping illustrations.

Forty years on, the auto-slashiness of the video for ‘Shame’ seems to illus­trate how main­stream and accep­ted slash itself has become in pop culture.

Tip: William Godwin

Why doesn’t America love Robbie Williams?

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by Mark Simpson

(Originally appeared on Salon.com, April 2003)

It’s tough grow­ing up British. Not just for all the obvi­ous Austin Powers-esque reas­ons, such as our medi­eval dentistry, endemic mold prob­lems and epi­demic dandruff, but for some­thing much more exist­en­tial. The British are great and enthu­si­astic believ­ers in Original Sin. In Britain, would you Adam and Eve it, we devoutly accept that we are all Fallen, all doomed before we are born, that no child how­ever lovely and chuckly and pink-skinned is born innocent.

Of course, since we lib­er­ated the mon­as­ter­ies, Coalition-style, back in Henry VIII’s time, and became nom­in­ally Protestant for tax reas­ons, we don’t call it Original Sin any­more. We call it the class sys­tem (though in New Labor Britain you will be repor­ted to the police if you men­tion it). And we don’t talk about sin­ners any more, just wank­ers. You see, whichever class you hap­pen to be born into in Britain, it will be the wrong one. Granted, some are wronger than oth­ers, but even the most priv­ileged classes are the wrong ones — to every­one else. Moreover, whatever class you are born into, your des­tiny, your hap­pi­ness, your sal­va­tion, is not your prop­erty and cer­tainly not your right. If you try to escape your British birth­right by becom­ing some­thing you’re not, then you will be Found Out, and every­one will point and laugh and call you a wanker.

Probably the biggest wanker in Britain today is cheeky chap­pie pop­ster Robbie Williams, or simply “Robbie,” as we like to call him here in that affec­tion­ate, famil­iar way we handle toss­ers (another word for wanker; we have as many as the Inuits have for snow — and “Robbie” is fast becom­ing another). Robbie is the biggest onan­ist in Britain, mostly because he’s one of the biggest suc­cess stor­ies. Since going solo in 1996 after leav­ing Brit boy-band Take That, Robbie, who was expec­ted at best to become a kids’ TV presenter, has had 15 solo U.K. top-10 singles, 13 Brit Awards — more than any­one else in the award’s his­tory — and has sold 15 mil­lion albums world­wide. Robbie is British pop today. He is also the brag­ging, self-publicizing, self-flagellating, self-loathing sym­bol of the life­style every young per­son in Britain is sup­posed to aspire to and des­pise at the same time. As he puts it with char­ac­ter­istic mod­esty on his new album, he’s “the one who put the Brit in celebrity.”

Unfortunately for the British pop industry as a whole, Robbie is also a sym­bol of its pathetic fail­ure, in the post-Spice Girls era, to export much more than Kylie’s bot­tom and Coldplay’s runny noses across the Atlantic. EMI, the ail­ing British record giant fam­ously swindled by the Sex Pistols (and prob­ably look­ing back fondly now to those hal­cyon days), recently paid a sweaty-palmed sum repor­ted to be as high as $120 mil­lion for Williams’ next six albums — at approx­im­ately the same time as the com­pany was lay­ing off 1,200 employ­ees. A sum that could only be earned out by Yank-side suc­cess. Oh dear. Best string out those final install­ments on that advance: Robbie’s new album, “Escapology,” deb­uted in mid-April at num­ber 43 on the Billboard charts, selling an anaemic 21,000 cop­ies in its first week. (By the end of the month, Amazon was already selling the album at a “Super Saver” price of $9.98.). For a record industry wal­low­ing in deep water after its worst year in memory, this was noth­ing short of a Titanic dis­aster. Robbie could be the cheeky ice­berg that finally sinks the British record busi­ness. Now that’s quite a wanker.

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One reason why Robbie is such a pop­u­lar wanker over here is that he was born chuckly and lovely and pink-skinned in Stoke-on-Trent, an ugly post-industrial nowhere place in the Midlands, a part of the coun­try that every­one in the north and south of Britain can safely look down on, a place that might be described as the arse-end of the U.K. except that this would sug­gest (a) that there was a point or at least some kind of func­tion to Stoke and (b) that you might if you were that way inclined, or just very drunk and con­fused, have some fun there.

Then there’s the fact that in Take That Robbie used to wear leather chaps and slap his arse end while singing cov­ers of disco hits such as “Relight My Fire” for the amuse­ment of early teen­age girls, 40-year-old gay men and Lulu. There are no more humble ori­gins than that.

As for his per­form­ance style today, I could say that he thinks he’s David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust but just ends up being Norman Wisdom (a 1950s British equi­val­ent of Jerry Lewis, though more pathetic). Or, if I wanted to be crueller, I could say that his stage per­form­ance and chat­ter are like Tourette’s syn­drome with pan­to­mime move­ments. Or simply that he’s a selfish, self-pitying, self-seeking fool who has no opin­ions on any­thing other than him­self — and they’re all ter­rible. But if I did, I’d merely be repeat­ing what Robbie has already said about him­self on national TV, beat­ing me, the British tabloids, and Man in Pub to the punch. Robbie has told us many times that he’s “bored” with Robbie Williams and wants to “kill him off.” But Robbie’s eager­ness to beat him­self up for his pub­lic, although it is appre­ci­ated, is just another reason why he’s a — you guessed it — wanker.

You can prob­ably under­stand, then, why our Robbie is so keen to make it in America. Why, in fact, he already spends most of his time and his European roy­al­ties in America, relax­ing American-style in his big American house in L.A., sun­bathing by his big American pool pulling fuck-off/come-to-bed faces at the British tabloid heli­copters cease­lessly hov­er­ing over him. Why the U.S. and L.A. are men­tioned — nay, incan­ted — often in a charm­ing faux-American drawl, on sev­eral tracks on his new, American-targeted album, and sev­eral times in one song in the case of “Hot Fudge”: “I’m mov­ing to L.A.! L.A.! L.A.! L.A.! L.A.! L.A.! L.A.! L.A.! L.A.!” — a place where suc­cess really can save you and where no one is ever Found Out, just found over­dosed and badly decom­posed at the bot­tom of their pool.

All this might also help you under­stand why his album is called “Escapology,” why the art­work for the album fea­tures disturbing-absurd pic­tures of our Robbie trapped at the bot­tom of giant tubes of water or sus­pen­ded upside down hun­dreds of feet in the air, and why the lyr­ics talk rather a lot about self-loathing, espe­cially when they’re brag­ging and crow­ing about his fame.

While Robbie clearly needs the U.S., it’s by no means clear why the U.S. needs Robbie. In the U.K. Robbie is the king of karaōke pop, when the charts full of karaōke pop acts, but in his adop­ted home of L.A. every schmuck wait­ing their turn in a karaōke bar on a Tuesday even­ing is a bet­ter singer. In Britain his lack of great tal­ent is seen as demo­cratic and reas­sur­ing; in America it’s prob­ably just unin­spir­ing. It’s a shame, because as Robbie tells us on the AOR power-ballad “Feel,” prob­ably the best track on this album, “There’s a hole in my soul/ You can see it in my face/ It’s a real big place.” Well, we know America’s a real big place, and since Britain is appar­ently no longer touch­ing the sides, maybe the Big Country will oblige and fill Robbie’s aching chasm?

The prob­lem for us Brits is that as Anglican lapsed Catholics we still believe we’re all Fallen, but we no longer believe that we can be redeemed. Oh yes, now we have to pay lip ser­vice to the American reli­gion of suc­cess — thanks very much for that, by the way — but we don’t really believe in it. We may, like much of the rest of the world, be crap-Americans now, but we’re agnostic crap-Americans; we still have hun­dreds of years of feud­al­ism to nego­ti­ate. It’s why our tabloids, which exist solely to tor­ment our celebrit­ies, fre­quently with flat­tery, sell mil­lions every day. It’s why our boy Robbie is so “ironic,” why he goes on and on and on about His Fame Hell.

For all his transat­lantic suck­face on this album, I sus­pect that tabloid-fodder Robbie, who is very crap-American (and also Catholic: “I’ve slept with girls on the game/ I’ve got my Catholic shame”), doesn’t really believe America can redeem him, either. He’s pay­ing lip ser­vice, too, though it’s not the kind of lip ser­vice you might enjoy. (Note: “On the game” is British slang for being a prostitute.)

One of the reas­ons “Feel” is the best track here is that Robbie doesn’t delib­er­ately sab­ot­age the pro­fes­sional song writ­ing of his (now former) musical col­lab­or­ator Guy Chambers as he does in prac­tic­ally all the other tracks, pen­ning glib, flip lyr­ics which would be inof­fens­ive and mean­ing­less in a pop-Muzak kind of way except that they are also teeth-gnashingly, eye-gougingly crass. Robbie’s lyr­ics are hyper­act­ive doggerel that won’t lie down, doing any­thing and everything to draw atten­tion to them­selves, includ­ing lick­ing their balls and chew­ing off their own head. “Come Undone,” a big James-ish anthemic num­ber, is utterly undone by the vain, self-obsessing lyr­ics full of mir­rors and razor blades: “Such a saint but such a whore/ So self aware, so full of shit …/ Do another interview/ Sing a bunch of lies/ Tell about celebrit­ies that I des­pise …/ I am scum.”

This per­ver­ted nar­ciss­ism would be almost admir­able in such a crowd-pleasing enter­tainer if it weren’t for the fact that Robbie is appar­ently singing to his drugs and rape coun­selor mom (yes, really) again: “Pray that when I’m com­ing down you’ll be asleep …/ I am scum/ Love, your son.” Robbie gives mat­ri­archy a bad name. Another track, “Nan’s Song,” is ded­ic­ated to his deceased grand­mother. This is the first song he’s penned entirely him­self and he has said, “It’s only appro­pri­ate that my first song should be about someone I love.” In fact, the song is all about how much his Nan loved him.

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Once again, the prob­lem with selling this shtick in the U.S. is that few people apart from some aging gay men in San Francisco have heard of Robbie Williams. So how are Americans expec­ted to relate to his prob­lems with his “massive” fame, which is all his songs are about these days? Robbie is Eminem without the hip-hop, without the wit, and without, finally, the (global) suc­cess. Robbie tried and failed to crack the American mar­ket a few years ago with a com­pil­a­tion album called “The Ego Has Landed” — which once again appears to be put­ting the apo­lo­getic cart before the career horse, “wit­tily” ref­er­en­cing a mediocre 1960s British film, “The Eagle Has Landed,” that his tar­get teen audi­ence has never heard of. As one American critic’s daugh­ter said when Robbie Williams’ face popped up on MTV: “Daddy, why is that guy being so goofy?”

In truth, “Escapology” is a kind of 21st cen­tury Brit Band Aid album, a “Do They Know It’s Christmas in Stoke-on-Trent?” where the needy con­tin­ent is Robbie’s self-esteem (and EMI’s bank bal­ance), but where Robbie is imper­son­at­ing almost every Brit artist who has made it to drive-time radio in the U.S. In “Something Beautiful” he’s Marty Pellow of Wet, Wet, Wet, pre-heroin; in “Monsoon” he’s post-mustache, pre-AIDS Freddie Mercury (even the tune owes more than a little to “Radio Ga Ga”); “Love Somebody” is pre-wig Elton; “Revolution” is post-Wham, pre-men’s-room George Michael (Robbie’s first solo single was a cover ver­sion of “Freedom”). “Sexed Up” could be Oasis, post-talent. There’s some Rod Stewart in here as well, but I can’t be bothered to find out where. For good meas­ure, and to show how ver­sat­ile and deserving of a green card he is, Robbie also throws in some Steve Tyler, some retro-soul and some col­lege radio rawk.

No, I lied. “Escapology” isn’t Band Aid. It’s an entire sea­son of “American Idol,” where Robbie is the only con­test­ant and also plays the part of Simon Cowell. Somehow, though, he man­ages not to win.

Robbie may be a wanker, and he may be doomed, but he’s not an ori­ginal sin­ner. Not only is he a karaōke pop per­former (his last album, “Swing When You’re Winning,” was a bunch of cov­ers of Frank Sinatra songs), he’s a karaōke human being. After leav­ing Take That he thought he was Oliver Reed for a while. Then he thought he was Liam Gallagher. Dressed as Frank Sinatra on the cover of “Swing When You’re Winning” (which includes a duet with Nicole Kidman on “Somethin’ Stupid”), or as James Bond in the video for “Millennium,” he looks like an uncon­vin­cing if alarm­ingly hir­sute drag king. By the same token, per­sist­ent rumors that secretly he’s “really gay” miss the point that Robbie isn’t really anything.

Where Sinatra was radio, Robbie is a radio. Robbie’s voice, although ver­sat­ile, is strangely con­stric­ted, nasal and dis­tant — as if he has a cheap tran­sistor radio stuck some­where up his nose. Frankie had a voice that, if radio didn’t exist, would have willed it into exist­ence. Robbie has a voice that is merely an echo of broad­casts that dis­sip­ated into the ether long before he was born.

On “Escapology,” Robbie des­per­ately wants us to believe that he has prob­lems. Perhaps because he thinks this will make him likable. Or inter­est­ing. Or human. And per­haps because it will make people for­give or for­get the fact that he’s a wanker. Actually, Robbie’s prob­lem is much more ser­i­ous than his wank­er­dom, more ser­i­ous even than being British. Robbie’s prob­lem is that he’s a ghost. A ghost that has no story of his own, no life to com­mem­or­ate or haunt, and no point — other than draw­ing atten­tion to him­self and the pan­to­mime of life that he has become. We’re sup­posed to listen to the clank­ing chains because they’re “really pro­fes­sion­ally put together” and harken to the moan­ing because it’s “so ironic.”

Mind you, Robbie’s insub­stan­ti­al­ity may be the most mod­ern, most sym­path­etic thing about him. As he sings on “Feel”:

Come hold my hand
I wanna con­tact the liv­ing
Not sure I under­stand
The role I’ve been given

Is there an exor­cist in the house?

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Copyright Mark Simpson 2006

Curiouser and Curiouser: the Strange ‘Disappearance’ of Male Bisexuality

 

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The recent spate of media reports of the com­mon­ness of female bisexu­al­ity — and the ‘non-existence’ of the male vari­ety — inclines Mark Simpson to won­der why we seem to be kid­ding ourselves about the real, red-blooded nature of the ‘bi-curious’ times we’re liv­ing in

Male bisexu­al­ity doesn’t exist. Or it’s very, very rare. Or it’s really just gay men in denial. Yeah, it’s offi­cial: bi guys are freaks and liars as well as non-existent.

Female bisexu­al­ity, on the other hand, is almost uni­ver­sal. It’s as nat­ural and as true as it is won­der­ful and real and… hot!

Or so you would be for­given for think­ing if you had read the effus­ive reports in the papers about California State University’s recently pub­lished sex-research which claims that women are 27 times more likely to become attrac­ted to their own sex than men. I haven’t yet been able to study the research quoted, but any sex sur­vey that claims to have inter­viewed 3,500 people and show that 0.3% of men are attrac­ted to the same sex com­pared to 8% of women (as quoted in the Independent on Sunday 12/2/06) is dif­fi­cult to take ser­i­ously. Except as a meas­ure of social atti­tudes rather than sexuality.

Maybe it’s because some of my best shags are bisexual men, but I’m begin­ning to get a bit teed off with this drive to make male bisexu­al­ity dis­ap­pear, either into stat­ist­ics smal­ler than a micro-penis or obscured behind a flurry of girl-on-girl action. A few months ago The New York Times pub­lished an art­icle called ‘Straight, gay or lying?’ which seemed to be a press release for the hil­ari­ously cranky research of Dr J. Michael Bailey at Northwestern University.

Apparently this research involves wir­ing up people’s gen­it­als and show­ing them dirty pic­tures and then claim­ing to have ‘proved’ that male bisexu­al­ity doesn’t exist — while the female vari­ety is com­mon­place. Which seems a much more tenu­ous con­clu­sion to reach, rather than, for instance: most psy­cho­lo­gists at Northwestern University are very strange indeed. (Amongst other extraordin­ary omis­sions, the art­icle neg­lected to men­tion that Dr Bailey has more than one ‘pre­vi­ous’ in his area: he thinks trans­sexu­als are also ‘really’ gay men).

I hate to break it to you guys, but most of the evid­ence, his­tor­ical, anthro­po­lo­gical and sex­olo­gical, sug­gests that if any­thing, male ‘bisexu­al­ity’ – it’s a ter­rible word, almost as bad as ‘het­ero­sexual’ and ‘homo­sexual’, but it will have to do for now – is much more com­mon than the female vari­ety. After all, entire civil­iz­a­tions such as Ancient (and accord­ing to some accounts, Modern) Greece have been based on it. Not to men­tion pub­lic schools, the Royal Navy and Hollywood….

It’s unques­tion­able that female bisexu­al­ity is today much more socially accept­able than male bisexu­al­ity, and in fact fre­quently pos­it­ively encour­aged, both by many voyeur­istic men and an equally voyeur­istic pop cul­ture and also, per­haps slightly para­dox­ic­ally, by women’s new-found desire to assert them­selves sexu­ally. What’s more, female homo­sex has never been leg­ally or socially stig­mat­ized to any­thing like the same degree as male homosex.

It’s a fond myth that the Victorians exemp­ted female homo­sex from legal cen­sure because Queen Victoria couldn’t con­ceive of it (apart from any­thing else, the young Victoria was a fan of the poet Sappho). Woman-on-woman love action wasn’t legis­lated against because, unlike male homo­sex, it simply wasn’t con­sidered of much con­sequence. It may be dif­fi­cult for fem­in­ists to grasp, but ‘pat­ri­archy’ was always much more con­cerned about where men’s pen­ises went than women’s tongues.

Straight women now have some­thing to gain and little to lose by admit­ting an interest in other women. Rather than exile them to the acrylic mines of Planet Lesbo, it makes them more inter­est­ing, more adven­tur­ous, more mod­ern… just more. For the most part, how­ever, straight men still have noth­ing to gain and everything to lose by mak­ing a sim­ilar admis­sion. It renders them con­sid­er­ably… less. Unlike women, men’s gender is imme­di­ately sus­pect if they express an interest in the same sex.

What’s more, any male homo­sexu­al­ity still tends to be seen as an expres­sion of impot­ence with women. In other words: men’s attrac­tion to men is equi­val­ent to and prob­ably a product of emas­cu­la­tion. A straight man admit­ting that he finds mas­culin­ity desir­able – as so many clearly, thrill­ingly do – threatens to cost him the very thing he val­ues most: not only his own man­hood and his potency, his repu­ta­tion with the ladies, but his lads-together homoso­cial intim­acy with other men.

It’s a nasty, vicious, bitchy trick to play on mil­lions of red-blooded men, but this is what passes for com­mon sense in the mod­ern, Anglo-Saxon world. When a male in pub­lic life is outed as bisexual – and, with the excep­tion of controversy-courting David Bowie in the 1970s, who now denies he ever was, they almost never come out will­ingly – he is imme­di­ately rep­res­en­ted as ‘gay’.

For a man, unlike a woman, there is no such thing as ‘half gay’. It’s tan­tamount to being half preg­nant. Exhibits A and B: the recent out­ings of British Lib-Dem Members of Parliament Michael Oaten and bach­elor Simon Hughes by the press as ‘gay’ – or rather ‘GAY!’ This des­pite the fact that Oaten is a mar­ried man with chil­dren and Hughes’ own care­ful present­a­tion of him­self in his (clearly arm-twisted) admis­sion as bisexual.

All those witty ‘LIMP-DEMS’ head­lines illus­trat­ing once again that any male homo­sexu­al­ity is seen as emas­cu­la­tion. If a male celeb’s sexu­al­ity is ‘ques­tioned’ (a tellingly pop­u­lar phrase, sug­gest­ing his gen­it­als have been taken down the police sta­tion) by the tabs, they fre­quently run front page head­lines by some tart claim­ing ‘HE’S NO GAY! HE’S ALL MAN! WE ROMPED SEVEN TIMESNIGHT!’

Naturally, a man’s prowess with the ladies is proof pos­it­ive that he couldn’t pos­sibly be ever inter­ested in men. Hence the pop­ular­ity of the expres­sion ‘red-blooded het­ero­sexual male’. It goes without say­ing, doesn’t it, that non-heterosexual men have pink blood. Real men don’t do dick; and if they do, well, they’re not real men. Can I have my pro­fess­or­ship at Northwestern University now, please?

Speaking of unreal men, Robbie Williams, the drag king of Britpop, was recently awar­ded large dam­ages over news­pa­per reports that he had GAY HOMOSEXUAL SEX with ANOTHER MAN!. Many poin­ted out his libel action of his over accus­a­tions of GAY HOMOSEXUAL SEX was rather odd, hypo­crit­ical even, given this former mem­ber of gay disco dan­cing baby Chippendale troupe Take That’s care­ful cul­tiv­a­tion of his ‘ambigu­ous’ sexu­al­ity over the years, and its cru­cial role in mak­ing him seem much more inter­est­ing that he actu­ally is. However, Williams’ flir­ta­tion with ‘gay rumours’ was prob­ably more a I’m-so-secure-in-my-sexuality post­mod­ern strategy for dis­pelling the pos­sib­il­ity that he was homo at all.

Williams spent a great deal of time and money pub­li­cising his affairs with the ladies. This care­ful invest­ment threatened to be rendered worth­less by this story. In keep­ing with their reflex­ive denial of male bisexu­al­ity, the news­pa­per alleg­a­tions of his ‘homo­sexual affair’ also sug­ges­ted that his very high pro­file rela­tion­ships with women were a sham and that he was a GAY HOMOSEXUAL really. Hence Robbie ‘red-blooded’ Williams had to sue.

When men have sex with one another it is never sex – it is, you guessed it, GAY HOMOSEXUAL SEX! Last week British scan­dal sheet the News of the World ran a story about a ‘secret’ (i.e. unlaw­fully obtained) film of two bisexual English Premier League foot­ballers… hav­ing sex. The head­line for the story used the word GAY in font so large it covered more than half the page. (The words ‘sor­did’ and ‘per­ver­ted’ and ‘obscene’ were also much in evid­ence; in a story about bisexual women the words would be: ‘saucy’ ‘steamy’ and ‘sexy’.)

Likewise, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was pop­ularly dubbed the ‘gay cow­boy’ movie, but in fact both the prot­ag­on­ists are bisexu­ally act­ive, and there’s rather more straight sex than gay sex in the film. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal has felt obliged to tell inter­view­ers how ‘uncom­fort­able’ it was for him to per­form the ‘gay sex’ scenes – des­pite there being almost none and that this is a film that likes to lec­ture us, rather tedi­ously, on how awful homo­pho­bia is. I sup­pose some would say we should com­mend his hon­esty; but then, this is a guy, remem­ber, who lives in LA and works in a pro­fes­sion where every­one smooches whenever they meet, when they leave, and when they’re feel­ing espe­cially emo­tional – like when they win an Oscar.

And I’m not even men­tion­ing that one of the prob­lems with ‘Brokeback’ was that Jakey boy was just too gay look­ing. If you’re a man who loves women, admit­ting a sexual interest in other men – or even fail­ing to men­tion how uncomfortable/ill the very idea of it makes you feel – can appar­ently cost you your vir­il­ity, and expose you to pub­lic ridicule of a kind that people might think twice about if you were actu­ally gay. Partly because a degree of polit­ical cor­rect­ness now pro­tects gays, and partly because gays, unlike bis, ‘can’t help them­selves’. And at least you know where you are with them.

You won’t even be praised for your ‘hon­esty’ as every­one will think you’re ‘really’ gay any­way. Why do bisexual men not come out? Because when a bisexual man comes out people shut their minds. Fear and loath­ing of male bisexu­al­ity is some­thing tends to bring het­ero­sexu­als and homo­sexu­als together. Instead of pon­der­ing the pos­sib­il­ity that pub­lic atti­tudes towards male bisexu­al­ity are a truer, less cen­sored indic­a­tion of what many people actu­ally feel about male homo­sexu­al­ity in gen­eral and its enforced incom­pat­ib­il­ity with mas­culin­ity, gay men too often rush to con­demn bisexual men and reas­sure het­ero­sexu­als: don’t worry, you’re not being homo­phobic when mouth­ing off about bisexual men coz we hate them too!

Gays, when they’re not eagerly cruis­ing bisexual men in laybys, saunas and chat-rooms, are too often keen to denounce the ‘dis­hon­esty’ and ‘double lives’ and ‘repres­sion’ of bisexual men – because they have the temer­ity to not be just like them, and instead lead ‘nor­mal’ lives that hap­pen to include a dis­creet, ‘devi­ant’ side­line, rather than order their lives and their ward­robe around their deviation.

In fact, the fet­ish might be on the other foot. The very exist­ence of male bisexu­al­ity threatens to put exclus­ive homo­sexu­al­ity into a neg­at­ive rather than a pos­it­ive light: per­haps you’re not gay because you love men but because you don’t love women. Another, per­haps more elit­ist gay response to male bisexu­al­ity is to insist that men are not ‘really’ bisexual unless they take it up the arse. This seems to me to be a pecu­liar require­ment. Would they also insist that a woman not be con­sidered ‘really’ bisexual until she had fucked a woman with a strap-on? Why priv­ilege some prac­tices above oth­ers? Many homo­sexual men are exclus­ively act­ive; are they not ‘really’ homo? Besides, it’s not for het­eros or homos to define what is ‘really’ bisexual. If it were left to them, there would be no such thing as bisexu­al­ity at all.

After all, bisexu­al­ity is ‘really’ the parts of human beha­viour that under­mine the very idea idea of ‘het­ero­sexual’ and ‘homo­sexual’ – of ‘sexu­al­ity’ itself. Male bisexu­al­ity may be still offi­cially invis­ible, but chat lines, mobile phones, chat rooms and the gen­eral frag­ment­a­tion of mod­ern iden­tit­ies has made it much easier for oth­er­wise het­ero­sexual men to dis­creetly explore their ‘bi-curiousness’ (a recent, erotic paddling-pool coin­age which attempts to avoid the plunge-pool iden­tity of ‘bisexual’). There are vast and grow­ing num­bers of these ‘bi-curious’ men, espe­cially those under 35 (some of them are prob­ably cruis­ing the chat rooms and rest rooms of California State University).

These are, after all, a gen­er­a­tion of men who have grown up with frank dis­cus­sions of homo­sexu­al­ity in the media and, more cru­cially, glossy, glam­or­ous images of male desirab­il­ity rammed down their throats, on bill­boards, magazines, films, pop music, TV and even and espe­cially on the play­ing field. Metrosexuality was in large part a response to this – and a socially accept­able, commodity-focussed male com­ple­ment to the media-generated trend towards female bisexu­al­ity which many men, while appre­ci­at­ing enorm­ously, felt some­what short-changed by. If the sex roles have broken down – nay, been battered down – why should women be allowed to main­tain the mono­poly on sen­su­al­ity and men be forced to con­tinue to merely per­form? Why the ana­chron­istic divi­sion of labour in the High Street and the bed­room? Why shouldn’t men exper­i­ment as well, and dis­cover, for example, their own pro­file – or their own G-spot? Why should Adam not be as curi­ous and as vain as… Eve?

Especially since the arrival of that boon to bound­less curi­os­ity as the Internet. This is a gen­er­a­tion of men who have grown up with easy access to hard­core porn; which, by the way, means: mas­turb­at­ing over images of pussies and dicks. In fact, dicks are fre­quently the only con­stant. Anyone claim­ing that men simply don’t have a bisexual respons­ive­ness should be made to watch the porn con­sumed by straight men today. Not only do all the most pop­u­lar scenes (anal and vaginal pen­et­ra­tion, blow jobs and ‘money shots’) star — very large — pen­ises, but more and more fre­quently, they are attached to young, attract­ive, smooth, worked out men that the cam­era lingers over much more than in the past.

Forget the sex-researchers with their clunky elec­trodes; the porn industry knows what today’s males like. You might counter that the met­ro­sexual male porn model phe­nomenon is simply a res­ult of the industry’s mostly fruit­less attempts to encour­age women to con­sume more porn; if you did you’d be even wider of the mark than those who have tried to explain away met­ro­sexual advert­ising entirely in terms of mar­ket­ing to women and met­ro­sexual men entirely in terms of pleas­ing women. Most ‘bi-curious’ men I’ve met – usu­ally very anonym­ously and very dis­creetly – express a very strong desire to try oral sex with a man, often as a res­ult of watch­ing so many women enjoy it.

Or maybe just because most men would suck their own penis if they could, but most can’t, so have to ‘phone a friend’. Or rather, a stranger. More often than not they have had these fantas­ies for an achingly long time before act­ing on them; and they def­in­itely haven’t spoken to any­one, espe­cially sex research­ers, about them. In fact, they are usu­ally ter­ri­fied that any­one might find out and this has been the main reason why they haven’t yet acted on these fantasies.

And these, remem­ber, are the most adven­tur­ous bi-curious men; the unad­ven­tur­ous bi-curious men simply stay curi­ous. This is prob­ably the oppos­ite for bi-curious women, who, it seems, tend to talk about it a lot before try­ing it. The most ludicrous aspect of today’s ‘sex­ist’ taboo on male bisexu­al­ity is that, after all, is it really so strange that males who are very inter­ested in mas­culin­ity quite often end up inter­ested in men. This is part of the reason why it used be thought of as a ‘phase’ that all male youths went through. There seems to me to be some­thing rather prissy and effem­in­ate about a mas­culin­ity that refuses any phys­ical intim­acy with men, ever. (Well, that’s what I say to straight men I fancy.)

At its most basic, most ‘rudi­ment­ary’, male ‘homo­sexu­al­ity’ is noth­ing more than a shared wank. All men, how­ever straight, know how to please a prick and have been doing so reg­u­larly, for most of their lives – many times more often than they’ve been pleas­ing pussy.

As for bug­gery – if God hadn’t inten­ded men to get fucked he wouldn’t have given them a pro­state gland. I don’t have any doubt that most of these bi-curious men really love women and always will, and in most cases rather more than they will ever love men. They are not mak­ing their first steps ‘out of the closet’ into a gay iden­tity. Many will lose their interest in hav­ing sex with another male. And there are, it is abund­antly clear to me from my own exhaust­ive sex-research, sev­eral ‘bi-curious’ straight men for every gay man. Exclusive, life-long male homo­sexu­al­ity is the excep­tional, not the nor­mal form of male-on-male desire.

Male bisexu­al­ity as a phe­nomenon is here already and is some­thing that soci­ety is going to have to get used to, or at least stop pre­tend­ing doesn’t exist – except when it wants to make money out of it in the form of advert­ising, fash­ion, pop-promos, movies and porn. If I was Herbert Marcuse I might argue that reach­ing for your buddy’s shorts instead of your wal­let – choos­ing the Real Thing over Diesel and Nike — is still ver­boten because cor­por­a­tions are mak­ing so much money selling straight men ersatz homosexuality.

That women are being encour­aged to talk about their bisexu­al­ity as an enhance­ment of their fem­in­in­ity and sexu­al­ity is rather mar­vel­lous – but it also height­ens the double stand­ard about male bisexu­al­ity, one as pro­nounced as the double stand­ard about promis­cu­ity used to be (men were ‘studs’ and women were ‘slags’), and makes it more inev­it­able that male bisexu­al­ity – by which I simply mean ‘straight’ male sexu­al­ity that doesn’t fit into het­ero­sexu­al­ity, and boy, there’s a lot of that – will have to be addressed can­didly sooner or later.

The tidy-minded inhib­i­tions which keep male bi-curiousness under wraps are still power­ful, but have largely lost their social value, their attach­ment to any­thing real; they are mostly rem­nants from a Judeo-Christian (re)productive, world that doesn’t exist any more, except per­haps in Utah, every other Sunday. Dr Bailey with his ter­ri­fy­ing sex lie-detectors is the (slightly camp) voice of the Superannuated Super-Ego. When enough young men real­ise this – or maybe just the des­per­ate pre­pos­ter­ous­ness of the argu­ments and ‘sci­ence’ deployed against male bi-curiousness – the change in atti­tudes will occur very quickly and dra­mat­ic­ally indeed.

Not least because the ‘bi-curiousness’ of some women seems almost bi-curious enough for both sexes. Women are begin­ning to talk about their interest in boy-on-boy bonk­ing as loudly as men have for years bragged about their interest in girl-on-girl action. Some are even try­ing to per­suade their boy­friends to return the ‘les­bian’ favour so often reques­ted of them in the past.

A sep­ar­ated ‘bi-curious’ fire­man in rural England I met a few times before he went back to his wife recently con­tac­ted me to tell me some­thing rather alarm­ing. ‘She found out about you,’ he said. ‘She hacked into my Hotmail account.’ ‘Oh, shit,’ I said. ‘What did she do? Throw you out?’ ‘No,’ he said. ‘She got turned on! She wants to watch.’ The poor guy had to tell her that that this really was a kinky bridge too far for him. That he was too much a tra­di­tion­al­ist to go down that path….

However the media tries to deny it, or oblit­er­ate it with another fever­ish dis­cus­sion of female bi-curiousness, it’s just a mat­ter of time before male bi-curiousness goes main­stream. These are inter­est­ing times. What we mean by ‘straight’ is chan­ging so rap­idly that the straight­est of straight men might soon find them­selves hav­ing to at least flirt with bi-curiousness – just to lay women.

© Mark Simpson 2006

UPDATE

In 2011 Dr Bailey recan­ted and very kindly allowed bisexual men to exist.

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