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God Save The Sea Queen

Gibraltar, otherwise known as ‘The Rock’, is the full stop to the sentence of Europe. It has been besieged no less than fourteen times. The Ancients thought it was a pillar holding up the end of the World. In the Middle Ages Jews fled here from the red-hot instruments of the Spanish Inquisition. Aeons ago, the last survivors of the ancestors of Homo sapiens also retreated to this toothy promontory of the Iberian peninsula, lasting a few, increasingly lonely, thousand years more in the dark caves that abound here, before being finally snuffed out by Progress.

Even today, rare and exotic creatures survive here that have long since become extinct elsewhere in Continental Europe. Off one of the narrow, steep, cobbled streets, down some worn steps, there’s a dark cellar bar, that holds out against not only the Twenty First Century but much of the latter half of the Twentieth. This is the domain and refuge of the last of the Sea Queens, Lovely Charlie, landlocked in the last corner of the British Empire.

The brick walls and vaulted ceiling of Charles’ domain are completely covered in battered Royal Navy Ensign flags. All of them have personal messages scrawled across them in Secondary Modern hands: ‘To Lovely Charlie, from the lads on HMS Sheffield – We think you’re magic!’ (dated 1981, the year before it was sunk by an Argentine Exocet in The Falklands); ‘Donkey Nob Was Here – 1979’’; and ‘Royal Marine Commandos do it in boats – 1989’. Signed photos of sunburnt, laughing young men with cans of lager in their hands and their arms around each other’s shoulders cover the wall next to the bar, together with postcards from Hong Kong, Belize, Brunei, Germany and Kuwait.

Tonight however Charles’ Hole in t’Wall bar – the finest bar on the Seven Seas – is completely empty, except for Charles himself, a well-preserved, handsome middle-aged man with glittery ear-studs and immaculate hair, sitting at the bar, and his snoozing big black labrador, heavy eyelids sagging. ‘Well, come in, luv,’ he says, happy to see a face. ‘Sorry it’s so quiet tonight. The Fleet’s out. Mind, it always fookin’ is these days! Are you a matelot? ‘No? What’s that you say? You’re looking for one? Aren’t we all, luv!’ he laughs, and gets me a bottled beer.

‘It was best when the frontier with Spain was closed,’ he reminisces, in his effortlessly camp but strangely butch Gibraltarian English, comically spiked with some coarse, regional Brit expressions he’s obviously picked up from his clientele. ‘When Franco shut the border in 1967 that was the beginning of twenty years of bloody bliss, y’know. When hundreds of sailors have been out at sea for weeks and they dock here, they’re not going to let the fact that there aren’t enough single women on Gib to make a football team stop them having a fookin’ good time, luv!’

‘And they didn’t mind their mates finding out; they’d just say, “I bet you had a fookin’ good time with Charlie gobblin’ yer last night!” and everybody would laugh. Of course, who gobbled whom wasn’t always the way they painted it – but that was something private between me and them. Things aren’t the same now. I still get offers – but they’re much more furtive; they’re afraid that everyone will think they’re gay just because they had a bit of fun with Charles. And then in 1987 they only went and opened the fookin’ frontier, didn’t they? Now most of the lads head off for the bright lights of Marbella. I can’t compete with dolly-birds and disco, can I luv?’

‘But it isn’t about sex,’ explains Charles, sipping a mineral water (he’s teetotal). ‘It’s the company. The camaraderie. It’s my duty to run this bar! I’m a legend in the Royal Navy, y’know. I’ve been to Portsmouth and Plymouth. They treated me like a real Queen. There was nothing they wouldn’t do for me. I was really moved. I was in Edinburgh once, and a lad came up to me and said, “It’s Lovely Charlie, isn’t it!’ He was very sweet. He whispered, “Look, Charles, you can’t wear that much jewellery around here. They won’t understand”.’

‘I’m passed down, father to son. I had an eighteen-year-old sailor come in here last month, his first time. He said: “That door’s new,” pointing to that door over there to the pool-room which I had installed about ten year ago. “How did you know that?” I asked. “Oh,” he said, ‘my dad’s got a picture of him sitting on your knee. It was the year before he met me mam.”

‘They like to tell the newbies that they’re going to sell them to me for a round of drinks, y’know. Of course, that doesn’t happen. I’d never take advantage. But they like to wind up the youngsters. One lad came here with his Dad – the Navy has a Father’s week where they fly fathers who were in the Navy out here to travel home on board ship with their sons. He said: “Well, ‘ere you go Charles, you can ‘ave your wicked way wiv ‘im if you keep the drinks comin’!” I laughed and said, “Well, you’re his dad, so I suppose that makes it legal!” You should have seen the poor boy’s face!’

‘Oh yes, occasionally you get trouble-makers. They come here saying how much they “’ate fookin’ queers”. Everyone goes quiet because they know he’s going to get a tongue lashing from me. I usually say something like, “And I ‘ate fookin’ ugly cunts like you, luv!” Everyone usually pisses themselves laughing. And usually,’ adds Charles, winking, ‘they end up staying the night…’.

‘I can’t go on forever, though y’know. I’m not as young as I used to be. But the matelots, bless ‘em, they don’t notice any of this decay! They always say, “Oh, Charlie, you never change!” and I say to them, “Well, no, but the wattage does!” Charles laughs. ‘Every year a bit less. I started off here with 100W bulbs. Now I’m down to 10W. And tinted!

‘What’s that? Why do the lads love me so? Oh it’s because they know I love them,’ he explains with a shrug. ‘And I’m always here. Unlike barmaids, I don’t regard them as a problem or as a meal-ticket. And, of course,’ he smiles, winking, ‘they do like my outrageous behaviour. They always insist that I wear all my jewellery when they come to visit.’

A few hours and a crate of beer later I’m staggering back to my hotel and can’t help thinking that the reason the sailors treat Charles like a star is simply because they recognise one when they see one. ‘Lovely Charlie’ is, well, lovely. And priceless. When he finally calls last orders, or runs out of wattage, a little but precious piece of British maritime and marytime history will be lost forever.

This piece was originally published back in 2000 (and collected here), but I’m very happy to report that Charles is still going full steam ahead, and so is a recently-refurbished Charles’ Hole-in-the-Wall bar – he’s even upped the wattage! (Castle Street, Gibraltar; opens at 9pm.) 

UPDATE Jan 2015:

After forty years quenching the thirst of the Royal Navy, Charles’ world famous Hole in T’Wall Bar is closing. But Charles’ matelot fans are giving it a jolly Jack tar send-off – and showing Charles how much they luv ‘im. GBC ran a feature on the closure, which includes footage from the bar – and a rather wonderful big framed photo of what looks a lot like Charles in drag (that I somehow seemed to miss during my visit):

 

Sex With Someone You Love

To celebrate National Masturbation Month HuffPo have posted a version of an essay of mine collected in Sex Terror on how ‘self-abuse’ came out of the cubicle, tissue stuck to its shoe:

You see, wanking is a normal form of human sexual behavior, and intercourse is the deviation. Most men, even those in long-term relationships — sorry, especially those in long-term relationships — have orgasmed alone more times than they have done with others. After all, we peak sexually long before anyone will go out with us.

And if God hadn’t wanted us to wank, would he have put our hands at crotch level? (Of course, maybe he just wanted to make things really difficult for us.) As any anthropologist will tell you, when Homo erectus stood up, the first thing he reached for was his tool.

Read it here.

‘Sex Terror’ Now Available on Kindle – Sweet Dreams.

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SEX TERROR

Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture

Mark Simpson

This book will change the way you think about sex. It may even put you off it altogether.

NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE 

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 In his full-frontal follow-up to his widely acclaimed It’s a Queer World, Mark Simpson dispenses with the monkey business of sexuality and gets to grips with the organ grinder itself: SEX.

Subjecting our saucy new god to his sacrilegious satire, Simpson sins against every contemporary commandment about doing the nasty: It must be hot. It must be frequent. It must wake the neighbours. And it must be Who You Are.

Simpson argues that we all put far too much faith in sex these days, and that in actual fact sex is messy, confusing, frustrating, and ultimately disappointing.

Especially if you’re having it with him.

Along the way he gets worked up with Alexis Arquette over Stephen Baldwin’s bubble-butt, gets intimate with Dana International, Aiden Shaw and Bruce LaBruce, and – very gingerly – confronts Henry Rollins with those ‘gay’ rumours.

 

Praise for Sex Terror:

“MARVELLOUS… open Simpson’s book at any point, as many times as you want, and you’ll find the sort of gem-like sentences that Zadie Smith would give her white teeth for.”

– Suzi Feay, Independent on Sunday

“A chainsaw cock of wit… blisteringly, endearingly honest… insightful and valuable.  VERY FUNNY INDEED.”

– Dermod Moore, The Hot Press

“Setting common sexual sense on its ear, Simpson’s Swiftian proposals strike at an emotion dear to us: sexual desire. His anarchic mission is to free sex from sermonizing, convention, egoism, and cultural bias. But unlike Foucault, his deconstructing weapon is built of ribald humour and potshots at pretension. Simpson’s essays produce rancour and HILARIOUS LAUGHTER, DISBELIEF AND DELIGHT. Some call him wonderful, and some call him outrageous, but I call him A TRUE ORIGINAL and YOU SHOULDN’T MISS THIS BOOK.”

– Bruce Benderson, author of Pretending to Say No and User

“BRILLIANT… With surgical precision Mark Simpson peels away the layers of modern masculine culture, leaving few iconic figures un-scarred. This book is certain to provoke and likely to offend; we would expect nothing less from one of the most important voyeurs of contemporary life.”

– Bob Mould, Musician and Songwriter

“When the culture of sex breathes its final breath, Mark Simpson will be there to deliver the eulogy with great zeal. And what a GLORIOUSLY SARDONIC AND INSIGHTFUL farewell it will be!”

– Glenn Belverio, Dutch magazine

“One of those books that bounces up and down on your knee yelling ‘read me, read me…. Brutal honesty and razor wit  – a perfect feast. QUOTABLE GENIUS.”

– RainbowNetwork.com

“BLOODY GOOD…  every outrageous insight is just that – an insight into the modern  condition that often makes you laugh out loud and, if you are not entirely beyond hope, think. Simply some of the best writing on modern culture around.”

– Brian Dempsey, Gay Scotland

“One of England’s MOST ELOQUENT AND SARDONIC commentators.”

– Bay Windows

“Mark Simpson won’t be every reader’s cup of tea, but those who enjoy a biter blend of DARK HUMOUR AND KEEN SOCIAL OBSERVATION will want to drink deeply.”

– Washington Blade

“…never fails to amuse, bemuse, stun and stir… a writer at his peak, a SHAMELESS SUMPTUOUS SERVING OF SOCIAL SATIRE you’ll be digesting long after you put the book down”

– All Man Magazine

 

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ABOUT MARK SIMPSON

English author and journalist Mark Simpson is credited/blamed for coining the word ‘metrosexual‘. Simpson is the author of several books including: Saint MorrisseyMale Impersonators, and Metrosexy.

 

Sex Terror cover image taken by Michele Martinoli.

Melts in Your Mouth: Eminem’s Shady Sexuality

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By Mark Simpson 

(Nerve.com, February 22, 2001)

Eminem, aka Marshall Mathers, may have won only a few consolation prizes at the Grammys yesterday, but clearly the white rapper behind The Marshall Mathers LP has created the Album of the Year in every other sense. Em is the hottest property not just in the music business, but in pop culture itself, and, like Big Gay Al, aka Elton John, who sang a duet with him on stage, no one – the fans, the press, the critics, the police, the Vice President’s wife – can leave him alone.

Especially, of course, the gay rights activists, two hundred of whom picketed the Staples Center in protest at his “violently homophobic lyrics” (and what they saw as gay Elton’s “betrayal”).

Afterwards, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation solemnly expressed “gratitude” that Em was not awarded Album of the Year, but complained that the three minor Grammys awarded Eminem showed that “Academy members were willing to place their stamp of approval on lyrics that promote hate, prejudice and violence.”

Amen. But the rather important point that the protestors appear to have overlooked is, Sure, Em’s music is violently homophobic. It also happens to be violently homosexual. The two facts are not necessarily in contradiction of each other. Actually, in the world beyond the Care Bear sexuality of GLAAD, they’re inseparable. It might even be the case that the Grammy didn’t go to Em precisely because his lyrics are too queer.

To understand this you just have to pay attention to the music instead of the press releases. Sodomy never sounded so seductive, or seditious. When fellow Detroit rapping duo Insane Clown Posse ‘wittily’ renamed Slim Shady “Slim Anus” on their last album, the squeaky blond bombshell responded quickly and explicitly. “Slim Anus? You damn right Slim Anus / I don’t get fucked in mine like you two little flamin’ faggots,” he retorts on a track on Marshall Mathers, the CD that lost the Grammy.

But then in the track “Ken Kaniff,” he all-too-enthusiastically impersonates the voices of the ICP frontmen engaging in lip-smacking fellatio complete with very convincing grunts and groans and backed by cheesy porno Muzak: “Fuck yeah! Suck it! That’s good!” (ICP have since placed a downloadable track on their website featuring an Eminem-on-poppers-soundalike getting reamed by his hip-hop producer, Dr. Dre.)

Am I the only one who got aroused by all this “homophobia”? I suspect not. After all, sodomy – and graphic sodomy at that – is really the only sex you’ll find on Em’s record-selling CD, whether in the form of invitations to the listener to “suck my fucking dick, you fucking faggot” or dismissing his critics as bitter queens: “He’s just aggravated because I won’t ejaculate in his ass.” If Em really is the “New Elvis,” it seems that Jailhouse Rock is his starting point (which would at least explain his prison punk look). Even when he leaves the violent sodomy alone for a moment and turns to romance, it’s of a rather queer kind, as in the hit single “Stan,” in which a fan sends a series of unrequited love letters to his rap-star hero – the song Eminem chose to duet with Elton John with at the Grammys.

Em himself “comes out” and acknowledges his obsession/passion in another skit on Marshall Mathers in which a furious record exec complains that he can’t sell his records because instead of rapping about his wide-screen TV, Eminem is “rapping about homosexuals!” (Of course, the joke here is that Eminem’s records “about homosexuals” could hardly sell better.)

Now, if all this “fuckin’ homo” stuff seems adolescent, that’s probably because it is. It’s meant to be. Adolescence is a time of hormonal anxiety about identity for boys, but nowadays it’s not just a phase, it’s a career. And what is it that boys are supposed to grow into these days anyway? Masculine certainties have vanished, in many cases, along with dad, family and blue-collar jobs. The only certainty left to bastard boys like this is that they are “not a fag.” It’s a negative identity that can’t sustain a sense of self, let alone sustain one in a world which has made boys useless – i.e. faggots – by making traditional, mature masculinity redundant.

Rapismo like Eminem’s articulates that frustration, then soothes the anxiety the articulation produces. Eminem’s own story (now the stuff of legend) is instructive. A poor, pretty, blue-eyed white boy growing up in a depressed black area of Detroit without a dad, he left the house the definition of “different.” He claims that he was neglected by his mother, which she vigorously disputes. Perhaps the truth is that he was spoilt and fussed over and then ended up hating his mother for as he saw it turning him into a sissy: “I used to be mommy’s little angel at twelve” he sings in “I’m Back.”

To avoid complete emasculation, he rebelled against his mother and chose to be fathered by pop culture, in the form of hip-hop and the humongous phallus of black street culture. To Eminem (and other “shady” white boys of uncertain paternity from better homes) the world seems like a post-feminist nightmare where Mom is the law – and political correctness is merely “wash your mouth out with soap” writ large. He’s South Park‘s Kyle, ten years down the line plus plenty of drugs and disappointment.

In this cartoonish world, homosexuality isn’t only emasculation and weakness, it’s also the ultimate machismo, and the ultimate rebellion against “bitches” – as well as a contradictory solution to the problem of being fatherless, easing as it does the ache for male intimacy. But easing that ache means acknowledging it. And that means weakness. So homosexuality has to be constantly “stabbed in the head,” to use one of Em’s more infamous lines, even as it is constantly being evoked.

Every stab just leads to another target. After all, homos are everywhere nowadays in pop culture. And the blatancy of male passivity in a world where males are sex objects only makes this “stabbing” more imperative – even when you’re not, like Eminem, a pretty bottle-blond boy with “cock-sucking lips” (to quote ICP) and more than a passing interest in having your picture taken. “All I see is sissies in magazines smilin'” groans Eminem. “Staring at my jeans, watching my genitals bulging / (Ooh!) That’s my motherfucking balls, you’d better let go of ’em / They belong in my scrotum, you’ll never get hold of ’em.”

Eminem-attractive-photos

Look at the pictures of him in his book Angry Blonde (interesting spelling, that), skim past the one of him in blond pigtails to the ones where he is surrounded by a crowd of bleach blond Shady male clones gazing at him with shining, hungry eyes. Has pop culture ever looked more disturbingly queer?

Slim Shady is famously a character Em invented to express his “dark thoughts.” But maybe Slim is himself just a screen. This is not to say that Mr. Mathers is “really gay” (just as he clearly isn’t “really straight”), but just “really fucked up.” Perhaps the “real” Em is as neurotic, mother-identified/mother-hating, homeless, vulnerable, narcissistic and passive (aggressive) as the lyrics and the picture of him on his album cover suggest. In other words, all the things that make a great star, from Elvis to Lennon to Cobain.

And, alas, he’s all the things that can make young men these days who will never be stars sad and sullen, and sometimes suicidal. A seventeen-year-old white Eminem fan in Devon, England recently threw himself in front of a train. Apparently he was depressed by the “dissing” he’d experienced from friends after a gay boy said he fancied him at a party. The liberal coroner thought the lad’s anxieties foolish and misplaced: “He appears to have been unusually worried over his sexual orientation which really should not affect people a great deal either way.”

Maybe. But Eminem and the sexually shady, not to say confused, world of white hip-hop show that such a preoccupation is anything but trivial for too many boys today. It’s all they have left.

 

This essay is collected in Sex Terror: Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture

Copyright © 1994 - 2016 Mark Simpson All Rights Reserved.