James Dean, the lost bisexual love-object of the 1950s, famously denied being homosexual, but explained that he ‘didn’t want to go through life with one hand tied behind his back.’
Probably it’s just because I have a weak spot for Lee Ryan, the cheeky blue-eyed Essex boy who sings in a dreamy falsetto – and I know this makes me deeply unhip – but I rather like Blue’s ‘I Can’, the UK’s entry for next week’s Eurovision Song Contest. I hear in it a kind of metrosexual anthem, about men expressing things and having experiences that they really weren’t supposed to until recently.
Untying that hand – and waving it around a lot in time to the music.
I can untie these hands
Boybands played an important role in the spread of metrosexuality, with Take That most famously evangelising the male desire to be desired in the 1990s, turning a generation on to the charms of pierced nipples, leather harnesses and eager male sex-objectification. It seems none of Take That were, despite the many rumours, gay. But Take That as a band were very gay indeed. Their gay manager took the gay male love of the male body and sold it to millions of teen girls – and boys. All that baby oil helped loosen up ideas about masculinity.
London crooners Blue were in many ways the slightly more boring Noughties successor to the tarty Manc lads. Duncan James famously came out as bisexual a couple of years back, making him one of a very small club of out celeb bisexual males (so small I can’t think of any others off the top of my head).
But it’s not as if the others, especially Lee, are acting particularly hetero in this video for ‘I Can’. At the beginning Lee appears to be shagging Duncan from behind, though never losing eye-contact with the camera of course. And in fact a year ago he admitted/boasted to having had MMF threesomes with Duncan, whom he ‘loves to bits’.
When I first began writing about the subject in 1994 I talked about metrosexuality being the male compliment of female bi-curiousness (then called ‘lesbian chic), but quickly shut up about it when I realised no one wanted to hear that. And while metrosexuality did in some ways culturally stand in for male bi-curiousness – it’s his jeans not his ass I fancy – by encouraging an awareness of male beauty and attractiveness amongst men in general it ended up making the expression of male bisexuality/bi-curiousness much easier. ‘I can’.
Blue recently did a homoerotic, Du Stade type nude shoot for Attitude magazine (with Lee looking by far the most saucy), and have promised another one if they win Eurovision. Those hands have been untied already.
So much so that when the foxy ladies join them at the end of the video, and the heavens open, suggesting perhaps some kind of pan-sexual gang-bang, they don’t really convince as objects of the camera’s gaze – next to the full-wattage metrosexiness of Blue.
I’m obviously a bit slow this week. It’s only finally dawned on me what’s going on with the lady dancers in the video.
They’re Blue’s ‘feminine side’. All tied up in bondage at the start of the video they end up ‘untied’ and freely mingling/merging moistly with the boys.
Oh my, I wasn’t aware that Blue is a real band. I thought that they were a Pom joke created for “Love, Actually.”
Ann: You haven’t messed up this blog at all, of course. Quite the opposite. And you’re quite right to put me over your knee and spank me from time to time. I deserve it, and probably want it, even if I wriggle so.
Paul: I’m glad you liked my post. I do understand about the military not being an option. That’s the problem for a lot of us: what we “like” isn’t necessarily what’s attainable–or practical to pursue.
QRG: I’m not good at all this “political” talk. It’s why I avoid political blogs and feel bad when I muck up blogs like this one with political crap. I always say things badly, unclearly, offensively, while trying so hard not to. I meant m-to-f trans people, people who start out with male genitalia and feel that they are women trapped in men’s bodies. I didn’t mean that these people are “men” because they start out with male equipment.
For myself, I do feel that my sense of identity matches my secondary sex characteristics. Whoop-de-do. I’m not claiming that’s a good (or bad) thing. It just is. Until recently, it wouldn’t even be worth mentioning, as we weren’t aware of how many people don’t feel that their sense of self matches their bodies.
I also have a physical “problem” (as does your husband and everybody). This is not the place to go into it. If you’re curious, e-mail me privately at email@example.com. It has made me feel unsexed, castrated–however a woman feels that. That’s why it’s important to me to show off the good parts of my female body and assert my female identity. It makes me feel sexy when I do that, instead of ugly and sexless the rest of the time. So I know something about the problems of physical characteristics and how they affect our identities. I just don’t think we’re going to get rid of it all, or that we even want to.
Mark S. may have “fascistic views of the body,” but he’s expressing our human-animal nature. Yes, by all means, ‘fuck that shit’ but it’s part of what makes us living organisms, not artificial intelligence. I won’t start being turned on by fat people, to take an example, no matter how much I tell myself it shouldn’t matter.
I still consider myself a (sorry to use the f bomb) feminist only because I’m old enough that I came of age when the second wave was happening and it actually was meaningful to me and helpful. For example, abortion rights. My sense from corresponding with people in the UK is that you have no idea what a hateful environment for women it is over here. Anti-family planning of any kind, not “just” abortion.
I don’t care whether it’s coming from Republicans, men, women, Tea-party assholes or whatever. To me, it’s a feminist issue and I take it very personally, even though I’m too old (probably) to actually need an abortion.
Mark S.: I’m really sorry for mucking up your blog with this stuff. I am an angry feminist bitch–but not castrating, at least.
Now, please, let’s get back to celebrating male desirability and MSM.
ps–is “bonobo” a sexual orientation? …
Ann–thanks for your post!
Yes, for me “bi” really is just about as confusing a label. I use it only when I must. Simply “non-straight” isn’t too bad, I find, or sometimes “equal opportunity” (though that one I usually have to explain, and it’s a little too simple). I agree 200% about “sexual orientation,” for at least a dozen reasons. Yes, let’s kill it off–now!
As for the military … um … sooo not an option! From the perspective of everyone else: perhaps some exceptional comedy afforded until I was summarily booted out. From my perspective: one of the circles of hell (probably 5 or below)…
Paul: I agree with QRG’s advice that the military is probably the best place to find MSM (and other SM!) But that’s not as easy as living or working or going to a university.
I also agree with you in your guess about how US guys would respond to that survey. But again, there’s always such a disparity between what men will say on a survey and what they actually do.
I do sympathize with what you said about not being “attached” to sexual identity, and “I recognize it [sexual identity] as something we probably needed to pass through but … now we need to keep moving on in that regard, and we’re not.”
If you mean “sexual orientation:” oh, God (who I don’t believe in and thank every day for making me an atheist) I feel the same way. I identify very strongly as female, but beyond that … oh please just leave me alone and unlabeled to pursue MSM in my own fucked-up way.
It’s one of many reasons that so many people dislike the term “bisexual” and all other “bi” terms: they imply strict, binary ways of looking at sexuality.
I think this “sexual orientation” stuff will pass away eventually but it’s taking one hell of a long time. And like everything else that refuses to die quickly, it’s a one step forward, two steps back process before we finally kill it.
Well, I do hang out at a university!–having gone back after some time to finish an unfinished degree (begun in England). And find it astoundingly and depressingly segregated, sexuality-wise. And even so within the queer community, by gender.
The reference was to a survey done in England recently (https://marksimpson.com/2010/10/29/most-uk-male-students-are-metrosmoochers/). Quoting from Mark’s piece: “Researchers at the University of Bath found that 89 per cent of white undergraduate men at two UK universities and one sixth form college said they were happy to kiss another man on the lips through friendship.” My guess from all that I see is that if this survey were done in the States the results would be closer to 10%. Somewhere down at that end anyway.
I’m more-or-less “bisexual” actually, but basically that term is as problematic for me as “straight” and “gay.” Another story!…
Paul: I’m probably not the right person to ask. I hear about MSM because I go to meetings of groups of people who identify as “bisexual” and then I get on e-mail lists from bisexual groups. And they use this term.
Part of the problem is that a lot of MSM don’t call themselves that, or any kind of term that indicates they have sex with men. That’s the point. So all the discussion about them is based on carefully anonymous studies and surveys that distinguish between what men actually do and what they call themselves.
It’s the sociologists and academics who use the term MSM, not the men themselves.
When you talk about the percentage of boys who kiss their male friends on the lips being “clear at the other end of the scale” do you mean the good end or the bad end? Sorry, really not clear to me.
Over here, I get the feeling that many young guys are much cooler about this kind of stuff than in my time–but as we’ve established, I’m oooooold.
I don’t know many sixth form and uni guys. I’ve heard about gay men’s groups being extremely unwelcoming to gay men who admit to having sex with women and enjoying it–but I realize that’s NOT what you’re looking for. Sorry. It’s indicative to me that men are in some ways actually becoming more “fluid” in their activity, if not their thinking.
I think much depends on what part of our countries we’re talking about. For some reason NYC where I live seems more conservative about maintaining strict divisions between gay and straight and bi than, for example, Boston. But the theory is that’s because Boston is a college town and NYC is the Capital of the Universe and therefore changes more slowly.
A good friend of mine who is gay and thirty years old talks about being attracted to men who “aren’t gay.” I think it’s a perennial problem and in the old days was dealt with by hooking up with bisexual married men (married to women).
On the other hand, I have another good friend who’s bisexual and married to a woman and when he goes to gay bars wears his wedding ring and all the men are all over him until they discover he’s a sexual bottom.
My advice: hang out at universities. And happy hunting.
Ann, I keep hearing about all these MSM and I desperately, achingly, need to meet one.
Just ONE for a start!
Are American and English cultures diverging more rapidly in this regard? It feels that way to me, remembering that survey Mark passed on. If I were to try to guess what percentage of sixth-form and uni guys kiss their male friends on the lips, I’d say it would have to be clear at the other end of the scale.
Mark S.: Point taken about metrosexuality being postmodern and post-sexual, and not about aristocratic indulgence, warrior mores or taste.
I was hoping to provoke you into saying stuff like this when I challenged metrosexuality as a new concept.
But I do miss aristocratic indulgence and warrior mores. Consumerism is very dull and not at all sexy. Probably why I write “historical” fiction.
I also apologize for bringing down the light, sexy gay-bi mood of the blog. You’d never guess I write comedy. Good comedy is so hard to write, it’s easier to take a break and jack off, mentally, by posting boring, serious comments on my favorite blog.
So in a spirit of uplift, I’ll say that I love the whole working-class lad made good thing. And I love it that gay men like it. It’s what makes gay guys so sexy–and I’m saying that in a postmodern, post-sexual way, of course.
I especially like the “swearing” into the camera. (Is “fuck you” swearing?) We don’t have genuine working class over here in the Untied States. My first love of this type was John Lennon. (Probably not genuine working class–or was he?–I’m American and I can’t really parse this) But the point is, he said stuff that got people all riled up and was cocky and his whole attitude just said Fuck You and we had never seen anything like it over here. Very, very hot.
So, thank you, Mark S., for showing us clips of what you like, fashionable or not, and for “evangelising the male desire to be desired.”
Oh dear, Lee. You can be beautiful, but you’re still a bit of a nightmare aren’t you?
Still, the fiancee will have made a penny or two selling her poor helpless woman story to the News of the World.
Here’s Lee’s solo single from last year, which seems to explore similar themes of metro pride, and even uses the ‘untied’ metaphor: ‘I Am Who I Am’.
Probably relevant to know he grew up with his single mum in Chatham, Kent, quite possibly the roughest town in England, ‘without a pot to piss in’. And then found himself immensely rich and famous at 17. He gets into trouble for saying ‘fuck you’ to ladies and gentlemen of the press, but should probably say it more often.
OK, I’m obviously a bit slow this week. It’s only finally dawned on me what’s going on with the lady dancers in the video.
They’re Blue’s ‘feminine side’. All tied up and in bondage at the start of the video they end up ‘untied’ and freely mingling/merging moistly with the boys.
Ann: Everything you say about male beauty and sensuality is true of course, and not a little bit arousing, but the ‘newness’ of metrosexuality is that it is post-sexual. Pretty much everything you described is ‘pre-modern’ and pre 19th Century ideas about ‘sexuality’. And the Victorian division of sexual labour that went with it. Also what’s different and new about metrosexuality is that it’s a product of mass consumerism, not of aristocratic indulgence, warrior mores or taste. That’s why something as silly and bland as Blue matters.
Mark S. says: “When I first wrote about the subject in 1994 I talked about metrosexuality being the male compliment of female bi-curiousness (then called ‘lesbian chic’), but quickly shut up about it when I realised no one wanted to hear that.”
I’m sitting here feeling profoundly saddened by that. I would have loved to hear it. But I was not plugged into the Internet and online community then (not that I’m doing so well now) and was barely aware of any ideas beyond what I could hear on mainstream TV and radio, and print publications.
Mark, absolutely no offense intended, but I have to say I don’t think “metrosexuality” is a new thing. I think it’s just a new word for an old idea: that well-groomed men are sexy, sexual, and appeal to all genders and sexual “orientations.”
For most of history, only the upper classes could be well-groomed, men and women both. The land-owning citizen in ancient Athens who could spend his days checking out the hot young guys at the gynamsium (from the word for naked), while toning his own muscles, and spend his evenings at drinking parties with other oiled-up and toned young men to share his couch; and the 17th century nobleman who could wear his hair in long flowing curls, dress in silk and high heels, and show off his perfectly-shaped legs in tight stockings, are the direct ancestors of today’s metrosexuals.
And they’ve always appealed to women as well as to other men.
Why? Because a lot of women like clean, slim bodies, barbered heads and faces, and colorful, well-fitting clothes on our men. I enjoy showing off my body when I go out, and I like a man who can show his off, and has something worth showing.
When unkempt, paunchy and dirty (in look, if not actual smell) became conflated with “masculinty” probably had to do more with distorted ideas about “equality” and “democracy” than sexuality.
And I think male bisexuality has always been part of the mix. We’ve only just started acknowledging its reality, with many people still refusing to admit it exists. Just because it makes people uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not real. All the more reason to think it’s a very, dare I say “potent” force.
Imagine how weird it must be to the one who has the kinky, self-serving fantasies they’ve been sculpted to fit.
But with that Mikey pic it looks more like he’s ‘smooth’ down below. (According to rumours he’s not exactly massively endowed.)
I love James Dean. Lee from Blue…..not so much.
Morrissey also used the James Dean quote in his song Irish Blood, English Heart, ‘And I will die with both of my hands untied’