This clip by Irish comedy outfit Dead Cat Bounce called ‘Rugby’ has to be my favourite video of 2011. Even if it strongly suggests that, in Ireland at least, my work here is done and it’s well past time to retire to the touch-lines.
There’s much to admire here: the lightness of touch, the hilarious blend of the accurate and the absurd; the joshing, bantering, boyish affection — both for rugby and manlove. I even like the tune. But I find myself especially mesmerised by the lead singer’s vast, match-winning gob. He could swallow that giant, muddy testicle he’s pretending to lick without it so much as touching the sides.
It seems I’m not the only one who rated this manlove ballad. Originally broadcast on their state TV station RTE, it’s the fifth most popular YouTube clip in Ireland this year. Oh, and you can download the song from iTunes too.
Below the YouTube clip are scores of comments by self-identified straight rugby players and fans, most of whom seem to love it as much as this old homo does:
‘im a rugby player. i play lock.. which makes me the guy who sticks his head between the guys’ thighs. i still think this is fucking hilarious.’
It’s difficult to imagine a similar skit about soccer getting the same good-humoured response. But then, as several rugby fans have pointed out, soccer is for poofs.
Burly rugby player has a stroke after freak gym accident… wakes up gay and becomes a hairdresser
Chris Birch loses eight stone and transforms himself from skinhead to ‘preened man’
Gives up job in bank and retrains as a hairdresser
Cutting to the chase:
Mr Birch recalled: ‘I was gay when I woke up and I still am. It sounds strange but when I came round I immediately felt different.
“I wasn’t interested in women any more. I was definitely gay. I had never been attracted to a man before – I’d never even had any gay friends.
‘But I didn’t care about who I was before, I had to be true to my feelings.’
Before the accident Mr Birch, of Ystrad Mynach, South Wales, had spent his weekends watching sport and drinking with his mates.
But he said: ‘Suddenly, I hated everything about my old life. I didn’t get on with my friends, I hated sport and found my job boring.
‘I started to take more pride in my appearance, bleached my hair and started working out. I went from a 19-stone skinhead to an 11-stone preened man.
‘People I used to know barely recognised me and with my new look I became even more confident.’
The copy and a supportive quote from a neuroscientist seems to suggest only two explanations: ‘he was gay all along but didn’t know it before the stroke’; or ‘his stroke made him gay and good with colours’.
I’m not a neuroscientist, but it seems to me that there are more than two possible explanations here.
Maybe Mr Birch was just fed up with being the big Welsh boyo everyone wanted him to be and when it almost killed him he decided: ‘Sod THAT for a game of soldiers! Life’s too short. I’m gonna be a FLAMER!!’
Maybe Mr Birch simply resolved, albeit unconsciously, to be about Mr Birch from now on, not what his family, friends and fiancée expected of him. Maybe he chose to reject heterosexuality because it made too many demands on him. And what better way to escape its demands in a small Welsh town by waking up from a near death experience as the only gay in the village?
Being a bloke’s bloke isn’t always as much fun as it looks. And being honest, it usually doesn’t look that much fun anyway. You don’t have to be a ‘secret gay’ to find it miserable and oppressive. And more often than not you’ll be punished if you try to escape. Look at what happened to Shane Warne, whose own transformation from beer-bellied Aussie stereotype to flaming metrosexual has been regularly pilloried in the papers, including the one in which this latest sporting transformation story appeared.
Though of course nowadays it’s sometimes possible to be a rugby-playing Welshman and something of a flamer too. Maybe Mr Birch should have taken a leaf out of fellow Welshman Gavin Henson’s bachelor book and continued playing with odd-shaped balls but as a ‘preened’ rugby player. But then again, perhaps he didn’t have the legs for it.
And as for Mr Birch’s new-found interest in chaps. Well, I’m sorry but I don’t think it very surprising when males find other males sexually interesting. Or something that needs to be explained by a stroke. At least not the kind the Daily Mail reports.
There is though yet another possible explanation for all this. That this story is complete twaddle. It did after all appear in the Daily Mail. And the writer is the same one who reported pretty much every important fact about this infamous ‘gay orgy in the bushes’ story incorrectly, apparently pandering to the imagined Daily Mail reader’s worst fantasies.
Also, the stroke that ‘turned him gay’ (instantly, apparently), happened in 2005. Why wait six years to tell the national press? Especially if you told your parents and fiancée when you came round in the hospital.
And I seem to recall that when I first read this story about Mr Birch online yesterday it mentioned that he and his fiancé/girlfriend were ‘taking a break’ before the accident. The piece was ‘updated’ today and this detail is nowhere to be found.
And then we have the banner headline which talks about a ‘freak gym accident’ causing his injuries but the copy talks instead about ‘him attempting a back flip in front of friends on a field when he fell down a grass bank, breaking his neck and suffering the stroke.’ Or the way the ‘before’ picture appears to have been manipulated/squashed to make him look burlier.
But my favourite dodgy passage is this one:
‘He was taken to hospital where his fiancée and family spent days waiting anxiously at his bedside before he delivered the shocking news.’
What? More shocking than breaking his neck, suffering a stroke and nearly dying?
Last night BBC3 aired ‘I Woke Up Gay’, a documentary about Mr Birch. It was an hour long, but apart from some local Welsh colour, some more snaps of Birch pre-stroke when he was straight and very chunky (“Oh! That’s AWFUL!!’” was today’s slimline Birch’s horrified response to them) and more close-ups of Birch’s remarkable hairdo, which looks like a badly ironed dead badger, the doc didn’t really add anything to the Mail’s story. Or really clarify the ‘confusions’. (Birch says he ‘can’t remember’ much of his pre-stroke past.)
It did however leave you feeling that the whole thing wasn’t just cooked up by the Mail, and that Mr Birch seems to believe his own story. Or perhaps needs to believe it. Though it’s still not entirely clear when exactly he decided on it. His family were notable by their absence in the doc — apparently he has become estranged from most of the people he used to know before the stroke.
I don’t wish to suggest as many have done that Birch is ‘lying’, or was a ‘closet queen’ before the stroke. Or that he’s simply attention-seeking (though he certainly doesn’t seem to mind it). I do think though that he may be deceiving himself — but then, we all do that. To some extent probably most coming out stories are fictional if necessary narratives. What’s interesting is not what his story says not about dubious ‘brain science’ but about how difficult it can still be for some to accept themselves in places like the Valleys as gay, or just not a boozy rugger bugger.
In that kind of situation a stroke might even be a stroke of luck. At least in the sense of giving you a chance to reinvent yourself.
The ‘highlight’ of the doc was when Birch travels up to London to see the Wizard of Oz — or rather, a highly controversial scientist called Quazi Rahman who believes that gay men’s brains are innately different to straight men’s (this in turn is based on dubious assumptions about ‘men’ and ‘women’ that are increasingly being questioned). The narrator told us that Rahman has tested “hundreds of lesbian, gay and straight volunteers” (no bisexuals, note — and for the purposes of this entire documentary they simply don’t exist) and “can tell if a person was born gay or straight, despite their current lifestyle”.
In other words, Rahman is God.
The narration continues, cheerfully telling us:
“Though controversial, some scientists believe that our genes and hormones may determine sexuality before birth and personality traits too. These traits can be tested and this means that Dr Rahman can work out whether or not a person was truly born gay.”
Truly born gay.
In other words, Rahman is even bigger than God. He’s Jeremy Kyle.
(Note how BBC3 throws in a reluctant ‘controversial’ at the beginning of the first sentence but by the end of the second, knowing most BBC3 viewers have already long forgotten it, seems to be expressing nothing short of a divine revelation.)
So it was touching to see two people who both fervently believe in ‘gay brains’ come together — but unfortunately for Birch, it wasn’t a marriage made in heaven. Rahman talks to Birch about testing him to find out “how gay your brain is” (no, really, that’s actually what he says), but was clearly disappointed with his own results, which showed that half Birch’s responses fell within the ‘normal range’ for a gay man and the other half within the ‘normal range’ of a straight man. Whatever that means.
Birch though is delighted with the results because he sees it as an endorsement of his narrative of the stroke ‘turning his brain gay’. But Rahman seems set against the idea, despite his mixed findings. Perhaps this is because for the gay neuroscientist (who is the author of a book called ‘Born Gay’) the whole point of ‘gay brains’ seems to be that you’re born with them, rather than being something you can acquire, even by accident. Like I said, everyone has their own necessary coming out fiction.
Birch’s boyfriend, who accompanied him to the Gay Brain Detector’s lab, seemed to be the only one who had his head screwed on. He was gently sceptical of his partner’s belief that the stroke made him gay, but was patiently sympathetic to the psychology of it. “He’s based his whole life on the stroke making him gay,” he said whilst Birch’s brain was being ‘tested’ for ‘gayness’.
“If he wasn’t, it would almost be like having to start from scratch again.’
I’m not sure I entirely believe the preamble from the overly dudey — if very easy on the eye — presenter and star of this ‘experiment’ in ‘touching dudes softly’. Particularly the bit about ‘nothing makes me uncomfortable!’
But it is interesting to watch the responses of the men he decides to monster with ‘inappropriate’ tenderness — or ‘touching another dude softly’.
I’m also personally interested in why I found it very uncomfortable to watch. Is it because I’m worrying the men will freak out? Or is it just because I’m very uptight about physical tenderness myself? Or is it simply because of the painful self-consciousness of the setup?
I’ve watched drunken straight lads do much ‘worse’ things to one another and not felt in the least bit uncomfortable about it. And nor did they, apparently.
I attended a gay rugby tournament some years ago and was struck by the way that there was on the whole rather less in the way of physical affection and tenderness between men than you’ll find at ‘straight’ rugby matches. I still remember watching a sozzled young chap at the Army & Navy match batting his mate’s gilfriend’s hand away from his chum so HE could hold his hand as they left Twickenham.
In fact, many of the players I spoke to at the gay ruby tournament seemed to be disappointed that the gay rugby teams were missing one vital rugby ritual: post-match homoerotic horseplay.
Sometimes being straight means that you can get away with much more. Because it’s all ‘a laugh’. Dude.
A column of mine on Out.com, ‘Men At Play in Afgrabistan’, gallantly defends the freedom of the derided (and now dismissed) security guards at the US embassy to get naked with one another and eat potato chips from each other’s butts in their spare time — even if they’re out of shape. I also point out how everyday and ‘normal’ homoerotics is for many if not most men — but we don’t want to see it, and when we can’t ignore it because it’s thrust in our face by digital cameras and the Interweb we pathologize or criminalize it:
…the furor is another reminder that we live in a culture where female bi-curiousness is routinely regarded as natural and almost universal while male bi-curiousness is seen as non-existent — or else it is just “sexually confused” (i.e. they’re really gay, but laughably repressed), or it is “deviant hazing” conducted by “sexual predators” that needs to be eradicated.
In reality, to anyone who opens their eyes on a Saturday night on either side of the Atlantic, there’s scads of evidence that plenty of “normal” young men who aren’t particularly “sexually confused” — especially the most, er, physical types — have a healthy appetite for highly homoerotic behavior after a keg or two. It’s what beer seems to have been invented for. In the Middle Ages they thought the cause of sodomy was drunkenness — they weren’t wrong. By contrast, I’ve hardly ever seen such homoerotic horseplay amongst straight women, even despite the invention of alcopops (though admittedly I perhaps wasn’t looking as closely.)
Some people have a more violently negative response to the everyday evidence of male homoerotics, literally trying to stamp it out. In the UK a straight female Canadian martial arts expert attacked and knocked out a couple of drunken British soldiers at a disco for kissing and ‘pretending to be gay’, screaming ‘THISSHOULDNOTBEALLOWEDINTHEBRITISHARMY!!’.
Living in a garrison town I’ve seen plenty of similary steamy behaviour from drunken squaddies in pubs and on dance-floors, snogging and humping and groping one another, so I can understand her frustration — I’ve wanted to get physical too, but not in quite the same way she did.
Sometimes the response is more genteel, but just as vehement. During the last Rugby World Cup a couple of years ago I was invited on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio Four to talk about homoerotics and rugby. I thought it a bit odd that Woman’s Hour wanted to cover this subject, but the producer enthused: ‘The presenter Jane is really keen to talk about it’. It turned out that neither the presenter, a former female sports journalist, or her guest, another female sports journalist, wanted to talk about it at all.
Both of them refused point blank to countenance the possibility that a game that involves men with large thighs wrestling in the mud over odd-shaped balls, or taking communal baths, or kinky nude drinking games that would shock the guards at the American Embassy in Afghanistan, could be in any way homoerotic. Only a homo would say such a thing.
‘Of course you would say that Mark,’ she said at one point, ‘because you’re gay.’
I paused. Several things occured to me to say to that. I could have said that droves of gay men were probably rushing at that very moment to dissociate themselves from what I was saying (they usually do). Or I could have said, ‘Well, of course you would say that Jane, as an uptight middle class woman’ (and I wished I had).
Instead I said, ‘It seems that some people have a problem with the word “homoerotic”. They think that it means something ‘for gays’. Perhaps some people would be happier with the word “male bonding”.’
‘Yes!’ they chorused, ‘it’s male bonding!’
‘But,’ I continued, ‘it’s male bonding with an erotic component so we’re back where we came in.’
They didn’t like that.
And this just a few weeks after this show had gone out on national UKTV, in which a team of northern rugby players had been filmed getting drunk and naked with one another, snogging, licking each other’s nipples - and playing with their captain’s ‘donkey dick’. Of course, I couldn’t even mention it, as on radio — especially Radio Four — you’re not allowed to acknowledge that TV exists.
Again, being radio, and posh radio at that, a nice voice whispered in my headphone just before we went on air. ‘Remember Mark, this is a family show so please try not to be too rude!.’ This did hamper my case somewhat, as rugby homoerotics are meant to be rude. Though it didn’t stop me from leaving something tantalising hanging in the air: ”The soggy biscuit game, for example, isn’t entirely a myth.…’.
‘I think we’d better move on,’ said Jane rather quickly. Apparently the Radio Four switchboard was jammed with retired lady callers demanding to know what the soggy biscuit game was.
(This feature of mine from a couple of years back, ‘Assume the position’, offers a more in-depth investigation of the culture’s crackdown on hazing and male horseplay in general.)
I seem to have somehow missed the not entirely shocking news that Tim ‘No Acorn’ Oakes of Sandbach RUFC, the spunky rugger-bugger captain who was so keen to show off his impressive semi-tackle on national television — and very kindly let his team mates play with it — has since gone the whole hog and stripped off for FamousMales.com, teasing the gayers with his no longer semi but fully erect assets.
EthanSays.com has some safely doctored snaps from the FamousMales shoot (albeit with the wrong kind of ball — please try to remember you Yanks: rugby players’ balls are odd-shaped). Here’s how the shoot went according to Ethan:
Completely at ease with being naked, Tim recently stripped down for Famous Males and stood stark naked in front of them, his proud, strong nude form — beautiful and stunning. “I’ve got quite a few scars now,” Tim said. “I get well bashed about on the field. God knows what the lads will think of this when they see the pictures…hee…hee.” “JUSTLETMEKNOWWHENYOUWANTMEHARD.”
I’ve seen the pics sans strategically placed football and let’s just say Tim is not only a shower, he’s also something of a grower. That said, I personally happen to think his ‘hammer’ is even more fetching than his ‘nail’.
Taking the sporno trend to parts it hasn’t yet reached — and what parts! — while spreading the famous French ‘pro’ tartiness of the Dieux du Stade calendars to these shores, the latestad campaign for Powerade’s ‘InnerGear’ isotonic sports drink features several UK pro rugger buggers in the buff snapped by the photographer Alan Clarke. Including, most spectacularly, most spherically, England Rugby Union Captain Steve Borthwick (above), keeping his spornographic end up for the Queen. And nicely stuck out.
Or as the gay porn legend Dink Flamingo would say, ‘Arch your back, bitch!’
Once again, it seems that it isn’t just me who is undressing athletes with my eyes and giving them filthy directions. Advertising is doing it too. But unlike me, advertising can actually afford these tarts.
But I’m not bitter. Honestly. I’m sure that Borthwick was rewarded handsomely by his sugar daddy Coca Cola (who own Powerade) for his bare-faced cheek, but nevertheless he also deserves, as Julian Clary would put it, a warm hand on his entrance for his bravery. Apparently his mates have been rogering him — sorry - ribbing him. ‘It is one of the most daring shoots I’ve been involved in,’ he told the ladies and gentlemen of the press, ‘but it has been loads of fun, even it it has given my team mates plenty of ammunition for changing room banter.’
I can’t help thinking though that the shoot would have been even more daring and fun if Borthwick had been portrayed along with his bantering naked team mates in an actual scrum instead of doing a muscular Marcel Marceau. For the purposes of realism, of course.
‘The InnerGear for an athlete — how we train, what we eat and drink — is as important as what we wear,’ says Borthwick, clearly reading here from Coca Cola’s script. ‘And it’s great that this campaign brings it to life’.
‘Gear’ of course is also the street name given to steroids, that hot commodity more and more rugby players these days look as if they’re taking, mandatory drug testing or no. According to various reports, epidemic numbers of young men who aren’t athletes but who, like today’s sportsmen, also want to look like porn stars are downing them like, well, soft drinks.
I’m sure Coca Cola chose the name ‘InnerGear’ for entirely innocent and pure reasons, and that none of their models would ever use banned substances, even if it is quite easy to do so and avoid detection, but if young men think that by drinking an overpriced sugary-salty drink invested with magical, virile properties by advertising they’ll get buff instead of fat, and look as desirable, as shaggable, as these pro athletes, that can surely only help sales.
Below, England International Paul Sackey and Welsh International Shane Williams who also feature in the InnerGear campaign, prove that really fit bubble-butts can fly. Williams, who looks a little like a Welsh statue of Eros with a rugby ball let loose instead of an arrow, also proves that really fit bubble-butts can arch and look over their shoulder at the same time.
It’s true that this public campaign, unlike the DDS calendars (which are for private consumption, after all), avoids frontal nudity, but then Freud thought that in dreams flying had a phallic symbolism.
So with InnerGear’s flying rugby buttocks you really can have both.
Welsh International Shane Williams. Your flexible friend.