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The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

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Category: bisexuality (page 1 of 2)

Brando Bukkake

 

Tip: Keltik & terrysmalloy 

The Male Gayze

The ‘male gaze’ so beloved of many feminists doesn’t exist. The female gaze on the other hand, does. And it’s scoping other women.

Or so you might be forgiven for concluding on the basis of the results of eye-tracking research by academics at Bristol University, England.

This is how the Daily Telegraph reported the research:

Revealed: women are the secret oglers

And it is the fairer sex that gives their rivals’ bodies a good visual once-over, found Bristol University researchers, rather than their supposedly Neanderthal partners. Men are more likely to concentrate on a potential mate’s face.’

Fifty two volunteers (26 women, 26 men) with ages ranging from 19-47 were asked to examine a range of different images, ‘including stills from nature documentaries, classical and surrealist paintings, and freeze-frames of couples in films.’ The last category included Love Actually, starring Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon.

The results showed that, understandably, the women weren’t very interested in looking at Hugh Grant – or any of the other men. They lavished 61% of their time looking at the women in the pictures, and only 39% on the men. Men also preferred to look at the women in the images too – but only just, at 53% to 47%.

What’s more, when women looked at other women their eyes tended to roam around the whole figure, while men concentrated on the face and eyes. In other words (not used by the researchers) women tended to ‘objectify’ other women rather more than the men did.

The (male) scientist who led the study was quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying:

“This is counter-intuitive from a sexual perspective if you are thinking about desire, but it’s not surprising if you look at it in terms of sexual competition.”

He continued: “The women might be checking out their sexual rivals, and comparing themselves with them.”

He noted: “That’s speculation of course – I’ve no proof whatsoever.”’

Quite.

And highly heterosexist speculation at that. I’ve looked and can find no mention in the study of the sexuality of the volunteers, just their numbers, their sex and age. But clearly they are all presumed heterosexual – along, as usual, with ‘desire’ and ‘sexual competition’ itself. In fact, as often happens with this kind of study it’s so heterosexist it’s positively reproductivist.

And of course, the Daily Telegraph’s reporting and presentation of the story is equally presumptive – e.g. the use of ‘rivals’ and ‘potential mates’ in the opening paragraph, and Kate Figes’ unsupported supporting speculation further down. There is no possibility here of any other sexuality than heterosexuality – and only the breeding kind of heterosexuality at that.

If I were straight I would be picketing the offices of the Daily Telegraph to indignantly demand my right to non-reproductive perversity. To visual pleasures that don’t make beautiful babies or eliminate ‘rivals’.

Rather than tying themselves into knots trying to make the findings fit what heterosexuality is supposed to be/do, perhaps it would make more sense to admit that some of their presumptions might be wrong – and open their eyes.

The near evenly-split figure for men’s ‘fixation length’ on male and female models in the images is in some ways more ‘counter-intuitive’ than the findings for women, but is largely lost in the attention given to the female ‘ogling’ of other females. After all, women looking, really looking, at men is a relatively recent notion – female narcissism on the other hand is not. What’s more, male gaze fans would probably say that because the images the women were looking at were constructed ‘by men for men’ (even when they weren’t) women are merely looking at other women the way men look at them.

But it turns out of course that the (presumed heterosexual) men in this study aren’t doing what everyone, including Laura Mulvey, expected them to be doing. They’re not ‘objectifying’ the women in the images as much as the women viewers. Worse, they’re not paying the women nearly as much attention. Unforgivably, their ‘gaze’ is almost equally split between the male and female subjects. What kind of a gaze is that?

In a sense, the men in the study are being far more visually bi-curious than almost everyone, traditionalist or feminist or scientist, wants them to be. No wonder no one’s talking about it.

Little Richard’s Big, Glam Legacy

Next month, on December 5th, Richard Wayne Penniman, better known as Little Richard, The King of Rockin’ ‘n’ Rollin’ Rhythm & Blues Soulin’, turns 80.

Whether or not Mr Penniman invented rock ‘n’ roll as he has often loudly and boldly claimed – and, to be sure, he’s got a better, prettier claim than most – it’s as obvious as the eyeliner around his lips that this son of a bootlegger from Macon, Georgia invented glam rock. Way back in the ‘uptight’ 1950s.

The King-Queen of Rockin’ ‘n Rollin’ may possibly have been inspired in his style by the early 1950s tonsured ‘bad-boy’ TV wrestler Gorgeous George (who also influenced James Brown and Muhammad Ali), but wherever he got it from he definitely stole, to quote Oscar Wilde – he didn’t waste his time borrowing. With his imperious pompadour, his sequinned capes, his outrageous gestures, his shrieks, his full make-up and false eyelashes, he channelled a fun, furious, flaming effeminacy that bore down on the charts like a screaming, squealing steam train.

Wisely, the charts surrendered, unconditionally. From 1955-57 he had fourteen hit singles and three number ones.

“Lu-CILLE! You won’t do your sister’s will!” came blaring through the house like a pack of rabid dogs. It was as if a Martian had landed. My grandmother stopped in her tracks, face ashen, beyond comprehension. The antiques rattled. My parents looked stunned. In one magical moment, every fear of my white family had been laid bare: an uninvited, screaming, flamboyant black man was in the living room. Even Dr Spock hadn’t warned them about this.’

– John Waters

Unlike Gorgeous George, however, the queerness of Little Richard wasn’t just a pose. According to Robert ‘Bumps’ Blackwell the producer behind his first hit ‘Tutti Frutti’, the ‘minstrel modes and homosexual humour’ of Richard’s original lyrics had to be bowdlerised for the mainstream. “Tutti Frutti, good booty”, for instance, was replaced with the slightly less sodomitical “Tutti Frutti, aw-rooty”. (There’s also speculation that the hits ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ may have been about transvestites.)

Little Richard didn’t though bowdlerise his private life, at least not during his 1950s heyday. According to his authorised biographer Charles White in The Life and Times of Little Richard on tour he would host swinging parties that were so swinging they were orgies. He would invite men back to his hotel and enjoy watching them have sex with his girlfriend.

So when racist groups such as the North Alabama White Citizens Council alarmed by his enormous, unprecedented popularity with white teens put out statements on TV, warning that “Rock ‘n’ Roll is part of a test to undermine the morals of the youth of our nation. It is sexualistic, unmoralistic and … brings people of both races together’, they weren’t entirely wrong.

Little Richard, like many people, had a complicated sexuality. Complicated by both his self-described ‘ominsexual’ tastes – he has had affairs with both men and women – and also by his devout evangelical Christianity, inculcated by his adored mother, which has led him to, ahem, turn his back on his homosexual side for much of his post 1950s life. Unsurprisingly, many gay people regard him with resentment as a result.

He gave an uproarious interview in 1987 to uberfan film director John Waters – whose famous pencil moustache was inspired by Richard’s own iconic lip-fur – in which he announced, not without foundation, that he was not only the architect of rock and roll but ‘the founder of gay’:

‘”I love gay people. I believe I was the founder of gay. I’m the one who started to be so bold tellin’ the world! You got to remember my dad put me out of the house because of that. I used to take my mother’s curtains and put them on my shoulders. And I used to call myself at the time the Magnificent One. I was wearing make-up and eyelashes when no men were wearing that. I was very beautiful; I had hair hanging everywhere. If you let anybody know you was gay, you was in trouble; so when I came out I didn’t care what nobody thought. A lot of people were scared to be with me.”’

In the same interview he confesses the source of his inspiration for his unorthodox use of his mother’s curtains. Not Gorgeous George, but rather His Holiness:

“I idolised the Pope when I was a little boy,” he says reverently. “I liked the pumps he wore. I think the Pope really dresses!” But there were other, more low-down ecclesiastical fashion casualties who seemed a bigger influence. “There was Prophet Jones of Detroit – he used to walk on this carpet. They would spread this carpet out of the limo and he would walk on it. When I got famous, I had the guys just spreading carpet for me to walk on, and they would kiss my hand… and I used to like to live like that.”

Happy birthday, your Most Royal Magnificent Rockin’ Holy Highness!!

At Muhammad Ali’s 50th birthday celebration in 1992. Ali: ‘The king!’ Richard: ‘I love you. Happy birthday, baby’:

Check out the full length packet shot at beginning:

Update 5/12/12:

BBC Radio 2 today aired a documentary about Little Richard with lots of (archive, I think) interview footage with the great man himself. It also revealed that his friend the late 1940s jump blues singer Billy Wright, who helped arrange his first recording sessions, liked to curl his hair, wear make-up and sometimes threw his panties in the audience. So Gorgeous George is right out of the window….

It also reported that a fourteen-year-old David Robert Jones – later known as David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust – attended one of Little Richard’s UK gigs in the early 1960s, at which the showman pretended to die on-stage, before resurrecting himself with: “A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-boom!”

I Can. I Will. Be Bluetiful.

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

I will

I know

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.

 

POSTSCRIPT

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.

The Bizarre World of the Bisexual

(For a longer, much less entertaining, prose version of this see my post ‘Curiouser and Curiouser: The Strange Disappearance of Male Bisexuality’.)

Tip: Dermod Moore

The Starman Has Landed: Bowie and His Glam Love-Children

Mark Simpson on David Bowie’s ‘men’s lib’ legacy

Lovely – in every sense – piece in the Guardian today by Gary Kemp, guitarist and songwriter and general brains behind 80s New Romantic norf London working class wide boys Spandau Ballet, about how he fell for David Bowie watching his epoch-making performance of ‘Starman’ on Top of the Pops in 1972. (I’d like to imagine it was inspired by my account in Saint Morrissey of how I fell in love with El Moz singing ‘This Charming Man’ on The Tube – Morrissey was to my generation what Bowie was to Kemp’s.)

‘The first time I fell in love it was with a man. It happened one Thursday evening in the bedroom of a flat in King’s Cross. I was a wide-eyed boy of 12 and the object of my passion had dyed orange hair and white nail varnish. Looking out from a tiny TV screen was a Mephistophelean messenger from the space age, a tinselled troubadour to give voice to my burgeoning sexuality. Pointing a manicured finger down the barrel of a BBC lens, he spoke to me: “I had to phone someone, so I picked on you.” I had been chosen.’

The melodic borrowing from Judy Garland’s ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ was probably too subtle for most, but the bit where Bowie languorously and yet somehow mate-ishly drapes his arm round the golden Mick Ronson on the ‘family show’ that was Top of The Pops was a very calculated and inspiring gesture of defiance back in July 1972. I mean, look at them. Only a few months before Bowie had very publicly come out as bisexual (though perhaps to up the ante, in his famous interview with Melody Maker he had actually described himself as ‘gay‘).

If you can’t in 2010, in LGBT Pride week, at a time when the Conservative Prime Minister has gay celebs round for drinks at Number 10, quite understand why this caused a sensation, and why millions of dads went apoplectic about ‘that fackin’ pooftah!’, bear in mind that just five years previously any and all male-male sexual relations were still illegal in the UK. The very first Gay Pride march had only been held a few days before Bowie’s own parade through the nation’s front rooms. This single appearance by Bowie on Top of the Pops, a show watched by most of the UK back then – and every single kid that didn’t sing in the choir – was probably more significant and influential than all the UK Pride marches put together.

He later famously repudiated all this in 1983, the year of the sell-out (in every sense) Let’s Dance tour, claiming that saying he was bisexual was ‘the biggest mistake I ever made’. In 1993 he announced he had always been a ‘closet heterosexual’ and that despite his interest in the culture it produced, homosexuality and bisexuality ‘wasn’t something I was comfortable with at all’.

But in 2002 an older and perhaps less ambitious Bowie was asked if he still believed that. His response sounds more convincing:

‘Interesting. {Long pause} I don’t think it was a mistake in Europe, but it was a lot tougher in America. I had no problem with people knowing I was bisexual. But I had no inclination to hold any banners or be a representative of any group of people. I knew what I wanted to be, which was a songwriter and a performer, and I felt that bisexuality became my headline over here for so long. America is a very puritanical place, and I think it stood in the way of so much I wanted to do.’

Not for the last time, the power of the almighty Puritan dollar had triumphed over the sexually ambiguous English pop star and his fey, spangly, decadent Limey ways. Success in the US – something Bowie didn’t really achieve on a major scale until the Yuppie-suited respectability of Let’s Dance – is still regarded as the benchmark for British acts. Partly because it is such a vast market, of course, and because US music has influenced UK performers like Bowie so much, but also because since we lost the Second World War to the United States we have nurtured such a vast inferiority complex about our colonial ‘cousins’.

But America, we often forget over here in the UK, is a very foreign country indeed. One separated from us by much more than a shared ocean and language.

The UK is a funny little small island, with far too much media per head – which since it lost its Empire takes far too much interest in superficial, ‘effeminate’ things like music and fashion and gossip. And crucially, we’re basically a secular country and have been, more or less, since Henry VIII nationalised the monasteries. The UK is a country where the defunct popular tradition of Music Hall – which Bowie drew heavily upon – is probably of much greater cultural importance today than any of that dogmatic Pauline asceticism that calls itself ‘Christianity’.

And America? Well, America isn’t any of these things.

This is why the seriously flirtatious personal style of metrosexuality, which at the very least throws a languorous arm around the neck of bi-responsiveness – and which is much more David Bowie’s love-child than mine – really took root in the UK at the end of the Twentieth Century, largely without the muscular Christian anti-metro/anti-fag backlash that happened in the US in the mid-to-late Noughties.

In the UK, metrosexuality instead produced new kinds of ‘starmen’ such as David Beckham – football’s answer to David Bowie.

As well as love-ly articles like the one above by happily married men like Gary Kemp.

Look out your window I can see his light

If we can sparkle he may land tonight

Don’t tell your poppa or he’ll get us locked up in fright

There’s a Starman waiting in the sky….

 
David Bowie’s Men’s Lib activism began early – here he is at the tender age of 17 being interviewed by the BBC about his Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Long Haired Men 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsNVsvvIfiM
(Special thanks to Paul Burston for very kindly taking me to see ‘The Dame’  – as he’s known in the business- at Wembley Arena, back in the dying years of the Twentieth Century. It was my first exposure to him – and although Ziggy had been buried at the Hammersmith Odeon twenty years past Bowie was still a revelation.)

The End of Heterosexuality (As We’ve Known It)

By Mark Simpson

A bullet-pointed column in the NYT by Charles M. Blow examines a sea-change in attitudes towards homosexuality suggested by a recent Gallup poll which found that, for the first time, the percentage of Americans who perceive “gay and lesbian relations” as “morally acceptable” has crossed the symbolically important 50 percent mark.

Also for the first time, and even more significantly, more men than women hold that view. While women’s attitudes have stayed about the same over the past four years, the percentage of men over 50 who consider homosexuality morally acceptable rose by a by an eyebrow-raising 26% -and for those aged 18-49 by an eyepopping 48%.

What on earth has happened in the US since 2006? How did the American male lose his world-famous Christian sphincter-cramp and righteous loathing of sodomy? Have the gays been secretly putting poppers in the locker-room ventilation shaft?

Alas, Gallup doesn’t say.  So Mr Blow does what you do at the NYT when you’re stumped: ask some academics.  They came up with three theories:

    1. As more gay people come out more straight people get to personally know gay people which makes it more difficult to discriminate.
    2. Men may be becoming more ‘egalitarian’ in general, partly thanks to feminism.
    3. “Virulent homophobes are increasingly being exposed for engaging in homosexuality”.

Now, the first two of these theories seem to me fairly plausible explanations for increased acceptance of homosexuality at any time, but not especially in the last few years – let alone that whopping 48% rise for 18-49 year olds. But the third theory about public homophobes being exposed as secretly gay perhaps goes too far in the opposite direction and is too current-news specific. As if the discovery that famous homophobe George Rekkers hired a rent boy to give him ‘special’ massages could transform attitudes towards man-love overnight – rather than just change attitudes towards George Rekkers.

So I give them all just a C minus.

And, as Blow points out, none of these theories address the main finding – that men now are more accepting than women, reversing the gender split on this subject that has held since pollsters started bugging people with questions about ‘homosexual relations’.

In my own speculative opinion, none of these theories can see the rainforest for the trees. Of course young men in the US are much more accepting of homosexuality – because so many of them are now way gay themselves. It’s not really an issue of ‘tolerance’ or ‘acceptance’ of ‘otherness’ at all. It’s about self-interest – quite literally. About men being less down on the gays because they’re less hard on themselves now – in fact, rather sweet on themselves instead.

It’s about men in general not being so quick to renounce and condemn their own ‘unmanly’ desires or narcissism – or project it into ‘faggots’.

Which from the point of view of today’s sensually greedy male would be a terrible waste of a prostate gland. Probably most young men are now doing pretty much everything that freaky gay men were once abhorred for doing – from anal play (both ways) to no-strings fuck-buddies, to crying over Glee, and using buff-puffs in the shower while demanding as their male birthright ‘comfortable skin’ (as the recent massive ad campaign for Dove for Men puts it).

And the timing fits almost as snugly as a finger or three where the sun don’t shine. It was after all only in 2003 that the Supreme Court finally struck down the anti sodomy laws still on the statute books of some US states as unconstitutional. It was also in the early Noughties that metrosexuality really took off in the US.

Despite a mid-Noughties anti-metro, anti-gay marriage backlash that helped re-elect Bush, in the Tweenies the male desire to be desired, and his eagerness to use product – and body parts and practises – once deemed ‘gay’ or ‘feminine’ or just ‘wrong’ to achieve this, seems to have become pretty much accepted amongst most American males under 45. It’s consumerism and advertising of course not the gays that has been putting the poppers in the men’s locker room.

Along the way, many young men have twigged that in a post-feminist world of commodified bodies and online tartiness there is decidedly no advantage to them any more in an essentially Victorian sexual division of labour in the bedroom and bathroom that insists only women are looked at and men do the looking, that women are always passive and men are always active – or in the homophobia that was used to enforce it. Men now want it all.  Both ends.

And perhaps American women aren’t keeping up with men’s changing attitudes because some are realising how ‘gay’ their boyfriends and husbands are already and wondering where this is all leading.

There’s plenty to wonder about.  After all, it’s the end of the road for that holiest American institution of all: Heterosexuality. Not cross-sex attraction, of course, or reproduction – but that system of compulsory, full-time, always-asserted straightness for men which straying from momentarily, or even just failing to show sufficient respect towards in the past could cost you your cojones. What, you a FAG??

If metrosexuality is based on vanity, retrosexuality, it needs to be pointed out, was based partly on self-loathing. ‘Real men’ were supposed to be repulsed by their own bodies at least as much as they were repulsed by other men’s. (If they were really lucky they might get away with passionate indifference.)

After a decade or so of metrosexuality a tipping point seems to have been reached. Men’s self-loving bi-sensuality and appreciation of male beauty, awakened and increasingly normalised by our mediated world, seems to be here to stay. Even in the God-fearing USA. And might now, if it’s in the mood and treated right, choose to be consummated rather than just deflected into consumerism again.

When I first wrote about how the future of men was metrosexual, back in 1994, it was clear to me that metrosexuality was to some degree the flipside of the then emerging fashion for female bi-curiousness. I didn’t talk about this much at the time because I knew no one would listen if I did.  (I needn’t have worried – they didn’t anyway.)

In this regard, one of the academics in the NYT piece was (finally) quoted as saying something interesting, right at the end:

‘Professor Savin-Williams says that his current research reveals that the fastest-growing group along the sexuality continuum are men who self-identify as “mostly straight” as opposed to labels like “straight,” “gay” or “bisexual.”  They acknowledge some level of attraction to other men even as they say that they probably wouldn’t act on it, but … the right guy, the right day, a few beers and who knows. As the professor points out, you would never have heard that in years past.’

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

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

Tip: Dermod Moore

MM4W – No Dudes! Not Gay!! We Don’t Touch Each Other!!!

Some amusing – and possibly disturbing – MM4W Craiglist personal ads spotted on the rather fascinating NattySoltesz.com (not entirely office safe).

My personal favourite is the one headlined: ‘Probably the 2 Best Looking Men You’ll Find On Here‘, which insists:

‘No trannies, no dudes, none of that creepy stuff — we’re straight!’

The pictures attached of the two buffed, preening male tarts are indeed a testament to where straight men are at these days. The state of straight.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with some buddies wanting to re-enacct the gang-bang, several-outsized-penises-pester-one-pussy porn that is so popular with straight men these days.  And if they’re buffed — even better. It doesn’t mean they’re gay. It doesn’t even mean that they’re particularly bisexual. It just means that, like most men, they’re rather keen on cocks.

But the hysterical lengths men still feel they have to go to to refute any of ‘that creepy stuff’ — even as they spit-roast or DP an obliging lady together, admiring each other’s sweating, flexing muscles and perhaps enjoying the sensation of their buddy’s erect penis hammering away on the other side of the pelvic area — or perhaps in the same orifice — is a bit sad. If understandable. Because of course, if you’re male and ‘touch one another’, even just once, then you are GAY!!!!! Forever. Whereas if you’re female and touch one another you’re… HOT!!!!!

The slightly, how shall I put it, impenetrable French Freudian feminist Luce Irigary (impenetrable even by the standards of French feminism) wrote back in the 1980s about the ‘masculine homosexual economy’ (of heterosexuals) in which women are merely objects and tokens to be exchanged between men — men in patriarchical systems being supposedly far more interested in other men than in women.

In the 21st Century we have moved on from that, of course. Now men appear to be using women as double-ended Fleshlites.

Celebrity Big Brother UK Drags It Up For The Final Season

C4 have been running this rather clever new cross-dressing Renault Twingo Sport ad heavily during Celebrity Big Brother ad breaks.

Could this have anything to do with the fact that Alex Reid, Jordan’s transexy cage-fighting beefy boyfriend, is one of the house-mates this year? And rapidly stealing the show, despite being the tabloids’ whipping boy and the way he was loudly booed when he entered the House.

The Twingo ad is quite a departure for a car commercial, especially one for a sporty hot hatch aimed at young men.  Jeremy Clarkson must be pulling what’s left of his 1970s dad hair out.

Instead of displaying shame, shock, anger or embarrassment at being humiliated in front of his mates the hot-hatch metrosexual son sees his father’s cross dressing as an opportunity to be socially exploited: ‘Dad?  Can you get us in?’.  We live in modern times indeed.

So it’s been entertaining to watch dinosaurs in the Big Brother House like Vinnie Jones give Alex pseudo fatherly ‘advice’ — which boils down to: ‘Don’t ‘ave anyfin’ to do wiv any of that fackin’ queer stuff, my son.’  If you want to be a washed-up bit part actor-thug with sphincter cramp, that is.

I literally spilt my tea last week when Vinnie announced, after getting up sharpish and moving, backs-against-the-wall-stylee, right to the other side of the room when Alex volunteered he was ‘try-sexual’: ‘I wouldn’t be in a movie wiv you if they paid me five million quid!’

Well Vinnie sweetie, you are in a movie with Alex already — it’s called CBB and you did it, according to reports, for just 350,000.

Alex, bless him, looked crestfallen, but then almost all of them, including former Madam Heidi Fleiss, the one with prolapsed lips, were lining up to have a go at him for being ‘confused’. Translation: interesting.  Let’s hope they don’t succeed in straightening him out.

House rule-book memorising Vinnie is playing CBB dad, but a very bad one — with badly dyed hair.  He’s so jealous of Alex you can taste it.  He’s jealous of his youth, his hair, his looks, his tits, and jealous of his cross-dressing, or at least his lack of hang-ups about it. He’s also threatened by Alex’s real as opposed to ‘Guy Ritchie’ fighting ability.

Most entertainingly of all ‘Hard Man’ Vin is shaping up to be a major gossiping bitch — cross-dressing Alex by contrast mostly keeps his tongue in his head and hangs onto his sense of fun.  Vinnie knows Alex is his main threat, in every sense: that’s why he keeps needling him and nominating him. He’d make a great Blakey in any remake of On The Buses.

But the bad CBB dads don’t end there.  Mega-swish Stephen Baldwin, who puts me in mind of the crazy camp ‘Begone foul demons!!’ preacher on the make in There Will Be Blood, is completely obsessed with Alex, spending scads of time and energy trying to seduce him — into the ways of Je-sus!– with flattery, love-bombing, back massages, mentalist preaching, and lots and lots of inappropriate eye-contact during endless shaggy dog sermons.  Stephen, who clearly doesn’t know his parable from his allegory, thinks he’s ‘helping’ Alex and showing him and us the viewers at home the revealed truth of the Holy Book he likes to thump so much and his own superior, saved status, but is in fact just making a very convincing case for American evangelism being sublimated – or rather congealed – homoerotics.

Alex is too nice a bloke to tell him to piss off.  Besides, he likes attention — and I suspect he knows that The Conversion of Alex just gets him more camera time.

I haven’t really watched CBB, or BB, since Pete Burns’ legendary appearance on it a few years back as a mischievous, sometimes downright malevolent, Eastern pagan goddess with a scouse accent.  Nor have many other people, which is why C4 isn’t renewing the franchise with Endemol.  But this final CBB is shaping up to be almost as good.

And I haven’t even mentioned Stephanie Beacham and Ivana Trump….

Fight Club: How Gay is MMA?

Mark Simpson attends an epic UFC event and finds himself turned on to the charms of ‘gay porn for straight men’

(Originally appeared in Out magazine, June 2008)

IMAGINE THE SPACE SHUTTLE taking off with a really fat customized exhaust pipe. Or Visigoths sacking Ancient Rome with kicking bass tubes fitted to their 4-by-4s. Or 20,000 supercharged male orgasms. Simultaneously. And you have some idea what it sounds and feels like in Montreal’s famous Bell Centre tonight for Ultimate Fighting Championship 83, as a spunky young carrot redhead in shorts pins an auburn lad on his back with his heels somewhere around his ears.

I think the technical term for this is a “full mount.” Or maybe it’s “ground and pound.”

Never Back DownAs the chiselled and blond bad guy with the low-slung shorts (Cam Gigandet) in the recent mixed martial arts (MMA) exploitation flick Never Back Down says leeringly to the doe-eyed brunet boxer  good guy (Sean Faris) new to MMA, the good news is that in this sport you can choke, kick, punch, pin, and throttle. “The bad news is that it’s gotta end with you looking like a bitch in front of everybody.”

Perhaps it was bad news for him – and for the auburn lad in the ring tonight – but certainly not for the 22,000-strong overwhelmingly young-male audience for the biggest-ever UFC event.

Over 2,500 miles away in Las Vegas, Brit boxer Joe “slapper” Calzaghe is tonight defeating light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins on points. In the long-established world of boxing, there is rumoured to be an ancient and secret tradition called the “perk,” or “perquisite” – by which the losing man may be required later to literally give up what he has lost symbolically. In other words, the fucked gets… really fucked.

I don’t know how much truth there is to the “perk,” though the breathless trash talk of modern-day boxers in the run-up to a fight – “I’m gonna make you my bitch/girlfriend/punk” – certainly doesn’t discredit it. But I’m fairly certain that the “perk” doesn’t exist in the “full-contact” brave new world of mixed martial arts (MMA), an omnivorous blend of boxing, freestyle wrestling, judo, tae kwon do, kick-boxing, karate, jujitsu, and Thai boxing that is rapidly replacing boring old traditional boxing, especially among young men, as the fighting sport. The perk isn’t needed. Because in MMA you get perked in the “ring” in front of everybody. On pay-per-view TV. The “perk” is the whole perking point, man. And UFC, by far the most successful purveyor of MMA fights for the cable TV voyeur, looks remarkably like gay porn for straight men: ultimate fuck-fighting.

ufc83_07_danzig_vs_bocek_001In the octagonal UFC cage set up over the Bell Centre ice hockey rink — octagonal perhaps because it better affords multiple viewing angles than a square boxing ring – Mac Danzig is still on his back; his sweaty, pumped, almost translucently white torso is flushed with the auburn heat that auburn skin produces when it is aroused. His panting, fetching head has been pushed up against the cage by redhead Marc Bocek’s energetic pounding, as if the cage were in fact a headboard. Bocek isn’t making love, however, or at least not the vanilla kind. He’s hammering the living daylights out of Danzig, stoking the crowd into ever-higher waves of frenzy. Although the Octagon is right in front of me, I’m watching all of this on one of the giant screens overhead: MMA is mostly a horizontal sport — one that requires multiple zoom lenses and a big TV to enjoy properly.

Bocek pauses for a moment to grab his partner/adversary by his hips, almost tenderly, and drag him backward while still kneeling between his legs, not wanting to break contact and negotiate that tricky “re-entry.” It isn’t, though, out of consideration for his chum’s cricked neck. He’s worried that Danzig will use the cage to get up off the canvas — and then get him in the “bitch” position. MMA is all about fighting for top. (Or maybe for extremely truculent bottom.)

bocekUnfortunately for Bocek, Danzig succeeds in breaking away anyway, jumps to his feet, and deftly, impersonally, brings up his knee and smashes it against Bocek’s left eyebrow, which provokes another roar of excitement from the crowd and opens up a very nasty laceration that spills hot blood everywhere, streaming into his eye, across his face, down his chin, and splatters across his lily-white chest — and all over his opponent. MMA is definitely not safe sex. The ref pauses the fight to examine Bocek’s eye. If the blood is preventing him from seeing, the fight will be declared in Danzig’s favor.

posterTurning to my beautifully produced glossy fight program, which includes full-page colour images of the topless young fighters arranged opposite one another and their vital statistics, I learn that Danzig is 5 foot 8 and 155 pounds, 28, and a Cleveland native. His feisty opponent, Bocek, from Woodbridge, Canada, is 26, and is also 5 foot 8 and 155 pounds. As someone who has a thing for redheads and short-asses, I’d say they are well matched.

The ref continues the match – and why not? Blood looks good on TV. There are only a few seconds left of the third and final round (UFC fights only go to a maximum three rounds at five minutes each — about the average length of a porn scene). Bocek, despite the turned tables and his pasting and what must be deathly tiredness, is still putting up an astonishing fight. Danzig scores a take-down almost immediately and moves, as they say in MMA, “directly to the mount.” Bocek “gives up his back” to try to save his ruined face from further punishment but is then caught in a “rear-naked choke” by Danzig’s powerful, fatally inviting arms. He “taps out” (submits) at 3 minutes, 48 seconds.

I don’t know about Bocek, but these were some of the longest 3 minutes, 48 seconds of my life. I’m aroused and inspired and exhausted and confused. For my money, Bocek won that fight – morally speaking. Which of course means that he lost very badly. His face is roadkill. He is really fucked. But he displayed that quality you hear people talk about reverently in MMA: heart.

Despite the gore, MMA is generally safer than boxing – there are fewer fatalities and brain-damage is less common. Because the fight is “full-contact,” the head doesn’t take all the violence. When it does, though, it’s pretty gruesome. Yet amid all the mayhem, there is a touching tenderness to MMA. Not because it looks to my twisted, queer eye like very rough sex — but because of that “heart” business. After a bout is over, most fighters hug each other in a pseudo-post-coital embrace that re-enacts the warlike hug earlier, only this time it’s a hug of warm brotherhood.

Another huge, manly Gallic roar. The arena’s giant screen is now tuned to the locker room; a rangy young blond skinhead fighter has peeled his shirt off, revealing a well-oiled fleshly fighting machine. The light behind him and his piercing blue eyes gazing into the camera, not to mention the low position of the locker-room cam, give him the cast of a demigod. It’s Georges “Rush” St-Pierre, the handsome, stylish 26-year-old local Montreal boy who tonight is hoping to seize back his UFC Welterweight belt from Matt “the Terror” Serra, 33, the no-nonsense Long Island master of Brazilian jujitsu who dispossessed him of it last year with what some people said was a lucky punch.

We’ve only been watching the hors d’oeuvre. All this blood has just been so much foreplay.

***

MacDanzigMarkBocek-1

“STOP LOOKING LADIES!” some funny guy in the audience shouts. It’s the weigh-in, a day earlier. Ed “Short Fuse” Herman, another 20-something boy-next-door red-headed fighter, from Vancouver, Wash., is naked on the stage under the spotlight, a towel held up by two lieutenants to shield his “short fuse.” Funnily enough, it’s mostly men rather than ladies doing the looking here in this packed auditorium. Though some are perhaps doing more looking than others: From where I’m seated at the side, I manage to catch a glimpse of Ed’s white butt as he bends over to slip off his briefs (a day later he will fight in shorts cheekily advertising ‘CONDOM DEPOT’ – across his butt).

Several guys have had to take their underpants off – to cheers. I can’t help but wonder whether the UFC officials, for showbiz’s sake, pretend some of these guys are closer to the weight limit than they are.

UFC knows all about showbiz. According to Forbes magazine, its pay-per-view shows have drawn well over 2 million viewers, most of them male and ages 18 to 49. Formidably shrewd, motor-mouthed former boxing promoter Dana White hosts The Ultimate Fighter, UFC’s hit PPV series on Spike (a men-only Big Brother with grappling gloves), which has taken MMA, essentially a semi-organized barroom brawl in the ’90s, cleaned it up, introduced some rules – including no stomping, no spitting, no throat strikes, no punches to the back of the head, and “no groin attacks of any kind” – and made it into a hot, multiangle, high-impact PPV commodity.

Described memorably by John McCain in 1998 as “human cockfighting,” and under threat of a total ban, MMA has become a different, more saleable, less relentlessly violent kind of “cockfighting” in the nurturing hands of the UFC – so much so that McCain himself recently relented: “The sport has grown up.” As a measure of just how grown up, UFC – for which casino owners the Fertitta brothers paid $2 million in 2001 – is today valued at roughly $1 billion. Cultural respectability has arrived too in the form of a recently published $2,500 MMA art book titled Octagon with a foreword by man-loving straight playwright David Mamet, who wrote and directed the MMA-themed movie Redbelt. MMA is also coming to major-network TV: CBS recently announced plans to air four MMA fights (non-UFC) annually — despite the disapproval of CBS chairman Sumner Redstone. “I’m a lover, not a fighter,” he said, perhaps missing the way UFC brings loving and fighting spectacularly together.

There is a lot of passionate hero worship in the world of MMA, not so much homoerotic as hero-erotic – or herotic. Straight male fans and fighters themselves will enthuse with shining eyes about “my idol”, in a way that in most other contexts would be considered much too ‘gay’ to keep a straight face.  But perhaps that’s not so surprising, since MMA owes a lot to those notorious warrior homos, the ancient Greeks. Although today’s MMA came to us via Brazilian jujitsu (alas, not conducted in Speedos, as the name may suggest), many consider it the modern version of pankration, a combination of boxing and wrestling that was the basis of combat training for Greek soldiers and an original Olympic sport. With lethal purity, pankration had two primary rules: no eye-gouging or biting. Fingers were often snapped off. Sometimes death or unconsciousness was the only form of submission (rather like this year’s Democratic primaries).

MMA’s younger fans are not likely to acknowledge their sport’s homoerotic heritage. For most of these young men, many of them blue-collar and swooningly in love with masculinity, gay means unmanly and passive and emasculated – and therefore major turn-off. MMA is gay porn for straight men because its violence not only justifies the intimate, protracted, eye-popping physicality of the sport but also preserves its virility – the very thing that gets many of its fans hot. These fighters can’t be fags – look how fucking tough they are, dude! It’s a bit like how in gay porn “real” tops never bottom – for the sake of the bottoms watching.

Sometimes the MMA fighter really is homo – like professional MMA fighter Shad Smith, who was recently profiled in The New York Times. From a tough blue-collar background, Smith was desperate to hide his sexuality at first. “I was petrified because I didn’t want anyone to find out,” he told the Times. “And I would try to be the toughest person around. That way no one would suspect. No one would ever say it. No one would think it.” Doubtless there are quite a few Shad Smiths who became very good, very determined, very motivated scrappers because they weren’t escaping to college or opening a hairdressing salon.

Georges St.-PierreThe tough-guy image is something of an illusion – if an entrancing and convincing one. Surprisingly often, fighters turn out to be sensitive, introspective loners – “fags” who aren’t actually fags — such as Mac Danzig, the beefy auburn-haired killer who is in fact a vegan and whose main pastime, when he isn’t turning another lad’s face into tenderloin, is nature photography. That’s also the story of Georges St-Pierre, a bullied slight boy at school who turned to MMA for salvation, who with his tight, wiry body, immaculately groomed presentation and designer clothes looks rather metro. As one observer put it: “He’s the kind of flash Europunk you might think you could wipe the floor with if you came across him in a bar, but you’d be very, very wrong.”

Likewise you might expect a fight between Serra and St-Pierre to be billed as good ol’ USA versus Frenchy “fag,” but you’d be wrong. Because GSP – to give St-Pierre his brand name – is generally considered to be an exceptional fighter, genuinely excellent in several disciplines, or maybe because this is such a visual medium, he has begun to look like the David Beckham of UFC, albeit one who actually reads books and is, heaven forfend!, interested in philosophy (that’s the French for you). His photogenic face and body and his workouts have been splashed across countless health and fitness magazines.

His opponent, Matt Serra, may be breezily unpretentious and resemble an unpainted fire hydrant, but he is definitely no idiot: “I think they look at Georges as the Crest poster boy with the sparkle in his teeth, the looks, the physique, the body and the athleticism…the real version of what Van Damme was doing,” he’s said. “And then comes me – the Joe Pesci–style ‘Heyooo!’ But it’s cool, man. I’m down with it. I fit in those shoes real well. I’m just looking forward to having another good fight.”

When he turns up for his weigh-in, a relentless tidal wave of boos greets him. An Italian-American pocket battleship at 5 foot 6, Serra weighs in at 169.5 pounds; he appears indifferent to the roiling sea of hatred around him. The booing doesn’t stop when the host offers him the microphone, and whatever he says is completely drowned out. So he offers the crowd two fingers, meaning “two times” and V for victory – and, perhaps, “fuck you.”

Ecstatic cheers greet his challenger St-Pierre, who’s taller by four inches but in stature by several feet. St.-Pierre fluidly strips down to his tasteful and tastily filled-out black underwear and also weighs in at 169.5 pounds. Offered the mike, he graciously tells the crowd they shouldn’t hate Serra and that “I don’t fight with angerrr – I fight with my ‘eart.” The two men pose for the cameras in a fighting stance and then they hug, GSP kissing Serra’s huge neck.

There was no trash talk in the quieter surroundings of the press conference the day before. The fighters had been polite, respectful, even friendly. “C’mon, I’ve got nothing against the French,” protested Serra when the journalists dug up some “Frenchy” quotes from the past. St.-Pierre, for his part, was touchingly open. “I am nervous and scared to fail but that’s normal,” he admitted. “I ‘ave butterflies. but I ‘ave to make the butterflies fly in formation.”

***

AAAYYYYYYYYAYYYYEAAAAAAA-AAHHAAAARGH!!!

The Bell Centre outdoes itself as Georges St.-Pierre, surrounded by his lieutenants, makes his way to the stage in a natty red jujitsu jacket. Climbing into the Octagon, he peels off his silky, tight black T-shirt, and then his baggy trousers come off, revealing tight black trunks with just a white fleur-de-lis on the side of his firm right buttock. It matches the arty tattoo on the back of his steely calf.

Cheers turn to boos. Matt Serra has arrived in a baggy black T-shirt with big white lettering: BUY GUNS SELL GUNS — GUNSAMERICA.COM. The stats on the big screen make difficult reading for Serra: GSP is taller and younger and has a longer reach. Worse, he is more popular and better-looking and has nicer pants. He’s the favourite in every way.

The bell rings, and they touch gloves. In a flash St.-Pierre has Serra on the canvas. All that frustration, regret, resolve, training — and heart — have exploded. All over Serra. To tire him out, St.-Pierre lets him get up, keeping him within range of his own fists but out of Serra’s. Then he takes him down again. St.-Pierre’s purposeful, ominous shoulders rise up like medieval armour, like Joan of Arc seriously narked.

End of round 1. Serra’s eye is swelling up badly. He looks beaten already.

mma_stpierre1_576

Round 2. Plucky Serra tries a kick.  St.-Pierre catches it and takes Serra down. After Serra stands up again, St.-Pierre lets fly a barrage of punches. Serra is too groggy to parry them. St.-Pierre — part panther, part lethal ballet dancer — comes in for the kill, easily taking his opponent down again. Serra offers his back, and St.-Pierre knees him repeatedly, athletically in the ribs in a manner which somehow manages to be as passionate as it is impersonal.

The ref stops the match, and it’s all over: technical knockout. Canada has won. Montreal has beaten Long Island. The butterflies flew in formation. Terrifying formation. And judging by the noise from the crowd, the entire world and its dad have just climaxed.

A grinning St.-Pierre executes a winning somersault. The crowd chants, “FUCK YOU, SERRA! FUCK YOU, SERRA!” He has been fucked. He was fucked. He is fucked. He is without any doubt whatsoever the fuckee. But he exhibits no resentment. The warriors embrace warmly, another kiss from GSP to that huge, now sweaty neck. Serra holds St.-Pierre’s arm up for the crowd, then hoists him on his shoulder, carrying him for a few staggering steps.

If MMA is gay porn for straight men, then tonight a part of me wonders whether, for all its spilled blood and mashed faces, it isn’t the better kind.

After all, no one could seriously accuse gay porn of having “heart.”

This essay is collected in ‘Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story’.

The Homosexual is 140 – And Showing His Age

Karl Maria Kertbeny

The father of the metrosexual Mark Simpson on the birth of the  homo- and hetero- sexual era

(Out, September 2009)

As you may have noticed, the out-and-proud modern gay, born amidst protest, shouting and flying bottles outside the Stonewall Inn in 1969, is now forty years old. But you may be less aware that this year is also the 140th birthday of a much more discreet and distinguished (if pathologized and sometimes pitiful) figure that Stonewall is often seen as making obsolete:

The homosexual.

The offspring of Austrian-born Hungarian journalist Karl-Maria Kertbeny, the homosexual was delivered to the world in a couple of pamphlets he published anonymously in 1869 arguing against the Prussian anti sodomy law Paragraph 143 – the first appearance in print of the word.

Kertbeny argued that attraction to the same sex was inborn and unchangeable and that besides, the law violated the rights of man: men should be free to do with their bodies as they pleased, so long as others were not harmed. Kertbeny maintained strenuously that he himself was ‘sexually normal’ (and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise, save perhaps his strenuousness).

Kertbeny’s ‘homosexual’, itself a disapproved conjugation of Greek and Latin, was part of a larger classificatory system of human sexual behaviour he conceived which included quaint terms such as ‘monosexuals’ (masturbators), and ‘pygists’ (aficionados of anal sex), most of which have not survived. However, another of his quaint categories has persisted and ultimately proved even more popular than the ‘homosexual’: the vast majority of people in the US today would happily and perhaps rather too hastily describe themselves as ‘heterosexual’ – despite the fact that the ‘father’ of heterosexuality, as Jonathan Ned Katz has pointed out in ‘The Invention of Heterosexuality’ (1995), seemed to conceive of heterosexuals as more sex-obsessed than homosexuals and more open to ‘unfettered degeneracy’.

Words like most offspring have a life of their own of course, and in this case one that worked against the coiner’s intentions. Despite Kertbeny’s libertarian if not actually homo-chauvinist sentiments, we might never have heard of the ‘homosexual’ (or indeed the ‘heterosexual’) if the word had not been adopted by Richard von Krafft-Ebing a few years later as a diagnosis for mental illness, setting the medical tone for much of the coming Twentieth Century with its aversion therapies, sex-lie detectors and psychiatric water-boarding.

Kertbeny’s double-edged legacy isn’t just the coining of the word ‘homosexual’, but helping to invent ‘sexuality’ itself: the very modern idea that there are different species of people constituted by their sexual preference alone – ‘heterosexuals’ and ‘homosexuals’ (and ‘bisexuals’ as an exception-to-prove-the-rule afterthought). Kertbeny invented the homosexual because he considered the other available terms, ‘pederast’, ‘sodomite’ and ‘invert’ too judgemental. He also saw no link between homosexuality and effeminacy – which he didn’t mind being judgemental about: he detested it.

As the brilliant sexual historian David Halperin puts it in his book ‘How To Do the History of Male Homosexuality’ (2002), pre-homosexual discourses referred to only one of the sexual partners: the “active” partner in the case of sodomy; the effeminate male or masculine female in the case of inversion. ‘The hallmark of “homosexuality”…’ he writes, ‘is the refusal to distinguish between same-sex sexual partners or to rank them by treating one of them as more (or less) homosexual than the other.’

The concept of the ‘homosexual’, medicalized or not, ultimately made possible the rise of the out-and-proud gay man, regardless of his own ‘role’ in bed or gender style, and also a gay community of equals. But it also tended to make all sex between men, however fleeting, however drunken, however positioned, ‘homo’ – along with all the participants, regardless of their sexual preference.

With the paradoxical result that there’s probably now rather less erotic contact – or in fact any physical contact at all – between males than there was when the homosexual was born, 140 years ago. The homosexual, in effect, monopolised same-sex erotics and intimacy.

Which is, frankly, a bit greedy.

This essay is collected in Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story

Banana-Curious: Why Men Throat Curved Fruit on YouTube

 

Male bi-curiousness may not be as ‘cool’ as The Daily Beast thinks, but banana-curiousity is clearly all the rage.

There has been a bit of a vogue for young men videoing themselves greedily downloading curved phallic fruit and uploading the sometimes messy, sometimes awe-inspiring results to YouTube. I’ve collected a few examples which may put you off your packed lunch. Or make you want to get to know it a whole lot better.

Because it’s a fruit that looks like a penis and is not an actual penis, fruit fellatio is something you can perform for your helplessly sniggering male buddies on buses, in barracks and canteens and post on YouTube for the world to see without age restrictions or, apparently, any embarrassment.

Nor does it tell us anything about your sexuality – save that you’re probably ridiculously heterosexual. Though it may suggest that, like most straight men nowadays, you spend rather a lot of time masturbating furiously over porn featuring gargantuan penises while wondering – just before you shoot all over the monitor again – whether or not you could do a better job of swallowing it than the lady porn star ‘slut’.

It’s a shame that male bi-curiousness couldn’t be treated the way banana-curiousness is by most people: just an eye-watering laugh that doesn’t mean anything, still less revealing some ‘inner truth’ about who or what you really are – or aren’t.  In other words, a bit like female bi-curiousness.

In fact, let’s just scrub the word ‘bi-curious’ for men, since it is apparently such a charged term, and replace it with ‘banana-curious’. Banana-curious guys could discretely flag up their interest to other banana-curious males by including a picture of them eating a banana on their online profiles.

Sadly though, such is the stigma still attached to men’s interest in other men and their bits that even banana-curiousness will sometimes get you flamed as… FAGGOT!!!!!  And even lads who like to throat twelve-inch ‘cock bananas’ on camera will fall over to prove themselves fag-haters because that of course proves their heterosexuality.

There’s a furious exchange on YouTube between the young chap above, who manfully attempts what he describes as ‘a cock banana’ (of Holmesian proportions that would have me hiding under the bed, quaking like a wet chihuahua) and a clearly envious if somewhat conflicted commenter who starts off by screaming:

‘GAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY !!!!!!!! ‘

The banana-throater responds wittily:

‘your the gay one fuck head ‘

Which leads inevitably to the riposte:

‘your gay for makin’ this video ‘

Fascinating epistemological question, that. Who is gayer? The uptight straight boy throating a twelve inch ‘cock banana’ on YouTube or the straight boy watching it and working himself into a homophobic froth about it?

‘your the faggot who searched for it ,if you like men youtube aint the place’

‘you’re gay for makin’ the video for us to search for,and I never searched for it. It came up when I was lookingh for something of a completely different category.’

Yes! That’s exactly how I came across this clip too!

Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I come across this kind of exchange between young males it always seems clear as day that such passionate denunciations of one another as ‘faggots’ is only possible – in fact only makes any kind of sense – if ‘faggot’ thoughts are extremely common amongst young males and they are forever fretting that they’ll be found out.

The banana-throater’s girlfriend makes a somewhat convenient appearance to prove he’s not gay – which of course in itself proves he couldn’t possibly be interested in penises – and to shoo away the gays that are circling around her talented boyfriend in language suspiciously similar to that used by him:

‘sorry gay boy its only a banana if you want to see cock why dont you go buy a poofs magazine’

Mind you, dear, as one of the posters points out, your boyfriend did title his charming video ‘cock banana’, so you can hardly blame the gay boy poofs can you? Your boyfriend, like you, does appear to have ‘issues’.

Here’s the banana-cock-throating boy’s own response to another poster’s offer to let him try out his skills on the real thing:

‘no thanks gay boy, women are suppose to do that kind of thing. its adam and eve not adam and steve.’

Whereas deep-throating bananas is of course entirely natural and normal and as God intended.

But the really important, urgent question, er, ‘thrown up’ by these clips is of course: who has the best technique? No.2 looks to have the most capacious throat, but I’m tickled by No.5’s enthusiasm, while No.6 has a very cheeky finish. Please post your reviews….

And to all you banana-curious lads out there wondering how to suppress that tricky gag-reflex: try taking a deep breath before swallowing. Poppers, relaxing music and a hand around the back of the head helps too.

Health and Safety Notice: if you really are going to try this at home I should probably point out that an actual penis or proper plastic dildo is probably less dangerous down your throat than a banana as they’re both somewhat less likely to break in two and choke you to death.

3.

“I hurt my throat!” (Yeah, right.)

4.

“It’s a big dick!” Not really, dear….

5.

Lots of eye-contact here.

6.

A cheeky finish.

 

UPDATE 1/4/12

A few years on and it seems one or two of the banana-throaters posted above have become a tad shy about their talents and pulled their clips. So I had a quick look on YouTube and found a new banana star – a cute blond jarhead who deep throats curved fruit in the barracks for a dollar. “Will you go out with me?” jokes his clearly impressed bunk buddy.

Meanwhile someone has kindly collected a ‘bunch’ of YouTube banana-throating vids and spliced them together:

 

Bisexuals Musto Be Gay

Michael Musto, a very gay man, had this to say in The Village Voice recently about those perfidious, untrustworthy bisexuals:

Everyone always says they’re bisexual, blabbing on and on about how “sexuality is fluid, and I don’t really like labels”–but usually I find these are just gay men who are afraid to come out. I know there are real bisexuals out there–mainly because I’ve heard that there are–and I do think it’s a lovely idea to actually crave sex with people regardless of gender. I’m just wondering how real a phenomenon this is, as opposed to a smoke-and-mirrors coverup designed to keep antsy gays in the closet.

‘Most of the guys I know who say they’re bisexual end up doing Bette Davis impersonations after a few drinks, and when you invite them to an all-girl bar, they get excited, thinking you mean Splash. But do you know anyone who REALLY is equally attracted to both men and women and effortlessly glides between those two dating pools without a second’s thought or self-consciousness? If so, do you ever suspect they’re full of shit?

Musto was perhaps being deliberately crass, but he should probably be thanked for voicing what many gay men think about bisexual men (and note that he starts talking about ‘bisexuality’ but it quickly becomes clear that, like me, he’s only interested in bisexual men).

Stripped down and lubed up, here’s what Musto was really saying about those flakey bi guys:

  1. They’re lying
  2. They really want to be Michael Musto
  3. Real bisexuality is about ‘craving’ men and women because bisexuals are greedy
  4. If they’re not greedy and equally attracted to both men and women – and of course Musto gets to decide whether they are or not – then we’re back to where we came in – 1.

Funny how many gay men appear to want to exterminate male bisexuality as a category even though they often find the idea of bisexual men a big turn on. Each man kills the thing he loves….

Of course, for some men declaring themselves ‘bi’ is a way of edging out of heterosexuality into full-time all-singing, all-dancing homosexuality and evenings out with Michael Musto. But that’s not why gay men are often so hostile to male bisexuality. The real reason is that, like most straight people, they want every man who touches another man’s pee-pee to have to join the gay team. They want to own mansex. And they want all those who have mansex to be just like them.

Sorry, but I’m going to quote myself again, this time from three years ago when the NYT ran a much worse article than Musto’s musings called ‘Gay, Straight Or Lying?’:

Fear and loathing of male bisexuality is something that 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!!

Male Bisexuality: Is it Cool?

Rachel Kramer Bussel at The Daily Beast thinks that male bisexuality has become ‘cool’.

‘…whereas bisexual women had their fling with pop culture in the 1990s-when everyone from Drew Barrymore to Madonna messed around with women, not to mention the famous Vanity Fair cover showing Cindy Crawford shaving k.d. lang-“bromances” are now the driving force behind Hollywood comedies and Style section features, as men find more ways to play for both teams, or at least act like they do.

Examples are everywhere. In John Hamburg’s recent movie, I Love You, Man, the gay guy who unwittingly goes on a date with Paul Rudd isn’t just played for laughs, but to some degree, sympathy. This summer will also see Lynn Shelton’s buzzed-about Humpday, in which two straight male friends decide to make a homemade porn video. And Brody Jenner’s reality show Bromance blurs the line separating friendship and attraction in what Videogum’s Gabe Delahaye calls “basically the gayest thing ever, made more gay by everyone’s desperate attempts to provide chest-bumping proof of their heterosexuality.”‘

For my part however, I’m not entirely convinced that male bisexuality has become ‘cool’, not least because most of the bisexual guys I meet are still terrified anyone will find out – and I still can’t name off the top of my head a single out male bisexual celeb in the UK (aside from my friend the novelist Jake Arnott – but as a self-described ‘gay bisexual’ he is rather exceptional).

Whereas almost any female star under the age of 40 has to pretend to be bi-crazed or else risk that Nuts/FHM cover.

And the recent trend for ‘bromance,’ far from proving the hipness of male swinging is, as the name suggests, almost defined by its incest-taboo-driven need to purge the male love affair of the possibility of anything physical, any trace of erotics whatsoever – to a degree which male buddy flicks in the past didn’t, and in fact often went out of their way to suggest: e.g. Top Gun, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thunder & Lightfoot, Midnight Cowboy.

By contrast these modern buddy flicks make me think ‘bromance’ is just another word for ‘bromide‘. Or lesbian bed-death for straight men without the honeymoon. (The arthouse movie Humpday seems to be another story – and precisely because it is another story, it is highly unlikely to be a hit.)

But we are certainly living in interesting times, and the culture is slowly – and frantically – trying to negotiate, however ineptly, however deceptively, the thing staring them in the face like the outsize erections in the mandingo gang-bang porn so popular with straight guys these days: male bi-responsiveness is probably very common, rather than the deviant, bizarre, incredulous exception. (It certainly was at my boarding school.)

The metrosexual is also, of course, part of this journey – and also sometimes perhaps part of the attempt to deflect it.

But there’s a long, long way to go before male bisexuality is even approaching the same level of acceptability let alone coolness as female bisexuality. A recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality found that the famous ‘sexual double standard’ has now reversed polarity and shifted in the direction of inhibiting men’s sexual adventurousness while encouraging women’s. According to The National Post men are:

‘…more limited by what is considered taboo in the bedroom; hit by a new double standard that expects men to be highly sexual, and yet expects them to be less experimental – while the opposite is true for women.

The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, found that society accords men less “sexual latitude” than women, deeming it abnormal for a man to be disinterested in sex, to engage in homosexual fantasy, and to engage in submissive sexual acts.

“The double standard used to give men more sexual freedom than women, but these findings indicate that the dynamic is changing” said Alex McKay, research coordinator for the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. “Men are forced to abide by a certain gender role, while women are today more free to be themselves. In this sense, the standard actually works against the man.”‘

I came to the same conclusion three years ago in a piece posted on here called ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ – based on my own very private ‘research’:

‘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 than 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…. When enough young men realise this – or maybe just the desperate preposterousness of the prejudice and ‘science’ deployed against male bi-curiousness – the change in attitudes will occur very quickly and dramatically indeed.’

As the Canadian report suggests – and Canada is about as liberal and relaxed a country as you could conceive – that day is not yet here. However, the fact that such a study exists at all is perhaps a sign that that it’s coming closer.

Either way, more research is needed. And I need a grant to conduct some more ‘interviews’….

How Eighties Advertising Made Everyone Gay

Tom H

by Mark Simpson

(GT Magazine, November 2008)

Why, I wonder, are gays – or at least the busybody, button-holing, milk-monitor types – so keen on ads being nice to them and telling the world it’s OK to be homo? Especially when this strategy frequently leaves them with mayo on their faces?

Stonewall’s apoplexy over the pulling of the Heinz ‘gay kiss’ ad earlier this year is a messy case-in-point. Excuse me, but it wasn’t a gay kiss, it was a joke: Heinz’s sandwich spread is so good, it turns mum into an ugly New York deli short-order chef whom dad pecks on the cheek before leaving in the morning. They’re not a gay couple. The fact it wasn’t a very good joke doesn’t make the sulky gay boycott of Heinz for pulling the ad look any less humourless than the literalist Christians and ‘family-values’ freaks who complained about it in the first place.

Likewise, whatever Snickers were saying in that TV ad featuring Mr T barking, “Get some nuts!” while firing candybars at a swishy speed-walker, the much swishier response of gay groups on both sides of the Atlantic who succeeded in getting it banned sent out the entirely unambiguous message that gays don’t have any.

More to the point, who besides Stonewall and pensioners, actually watches TV ads these days? Isn’t that what the fast-forward button was invented for? Gay people, and for that matter most straights, are too busy uploading their ‘home movies’ onto their on-line profile to watch TV in real time.

‘Impressionable’ kids that the gay busybodies want to protect certainly aren’t watching: they don’t see the point of TV that doesn’t turn the world into a lake of fire at the touch of an Xbox controller.

I’ll bet ready money most people only heard about these ads after the gay milk monitors started huffing, “How very dare you!” – and driving even more traffic to YouTube. It was the only place I actually saw either ad.

Gay protests about ‘homophobic’ ads today sometimes seem to exist in a virtual world, defending virtual people from virtual slights where the only thing that’s real is pointlessness. I’m old enough to remember when people did watch ads. It was a time when they were, as everyone used to say repeatedly, “the best thing on telly,” when, instead of diving for the mute button, people would turn the sound up.

And it was a time when ads were doing their damndest to turn everyone gay. It was called the 1980s.

In the 1980s, advertising was gay porn – and the only gay porn generally available. Which is why it was so powerful. Now, thanks to the net, porn is porn – or rather, porn is advertising: I want those pubes/ that body/ that cock/ that orifice/ that surgery/ that lampshade.

The legendary UK Levi’s male striptease ads of the mid-1980s (inspired by the success of the 1983 Calvin Klein underwear poster campaign featuring a giant Tom Hintnaus stripped down to his Y fronts in Times Square) in which humpy young men took their clothes off in our living rooms – and introduced the existence of the worked-out, attention-hungry, proudly passive male body to an equally astonished and enraptured British public – not only brainwashed an entire generation of straight boys into joining the gym and then going to gay discos and starting boybands to show off the results.

It also succeeded in making even straight women gay. After all, in place of cooing about “twinkly eyes,” it taught women to look at the male body with the same critical, impossibly demanding, carnivorous eye that gay men had used for years. (And in fact, so much have all our expectations been inflated that Nick Kamen’s ‘fabulously hunky’ body as it was described back then by the tabs, today probably wouldn’t get past the audition stage – he’d be told to go back to the gym and inject some horse steroids.)

Pre-1980s there wasn’t much gay lust in ads or, for that matter, Britain. I remember as a kid spending most of the 1970s watching an Old Spice Aftershave ‘Mark of a Man’ commercial, which featured a surfer riding a vast, spuming wave in very long-shot, to the climactic strains of ‘O Fortuna’ from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The number of times I waited for that ad to come on as a kid, hoping, praying that this time the camera would move in closer.

In the 1980s, my prayers were answered and the lens moved in, big time. Since then, it’s never moved back. It has zoomed ever closer, until now we’re looking at the mitochondria on the walls of men’s small intestines.

Maybe I’m an incurable romantic/masochist, but I sometimes find myself missing the aching, blurry, long-shot tease of 1970s’ Old Spice masculinity. Because it never quite delivers, it never disappoints.

You might think my take on how 1980s advertising queered up Britain and made it safe for metrosexuality fanciful, but there were lots of people who objected to the Levi’s commercials back then because they saw them as promoting sodomitic immorality. If those nay-gay-sayers had succeeded in having the ads pulled – in the way that gay groups succeed today with ads they deem to be immoral – who knows what kind of pec-less, ab-less world we might be living in?

In the post-advertising, post-gay porn world we’re living in, there’s an American website called Commercial Closet devoted to how ads treat homosexuals, which you can visit if you want to get worked up over ads you haven’t seen – most of them foreign. It has a gay grading system for each ad that, using a complicated very American formula, scores them from 0 to 100. Anything under 49 is deemed ‘Negative’, between 49-69 is ‘Caution’; 69-89 ‘Equal’; and 89-100 ‘Elton John’ (OK, I made that last bit up).

One of the more interesting contributions is a series of ads for the trainers ASICS, which ran in France this year. In them, two male French comedians, Omar & Fred, one black, one white, ‘go gay’, making passes at one another. Sans ASICS, they’re rebuffed indignantly by the other party. Avec, they go gaga for them. There’s nothing especially offensive about the ads. They resort to fewer stereotypes than gay-adored Little Britain and, more importantly, are (mildly) funny and seem to be entirely accurate in what they’re saying about the effect that consumerism in general – and advertising in particular – have had on men.

How does it score according to Commercial Closet’s gay-friendly grading system? ‘40: Negative’.

Little Britain Touches Up Uncle Sam

By Mark Simpson (Guardian, 20 October, 2008)

‘What other culture could have produced someone like Ernest Hemingway,’ waspish bisexual American exile Gore Vidal once asked of America’s favourite so-butch-he’s-camp writer, ‘and not seen the joke?’. The answer, was, of course, that only a culture that couldn’t see the joke could produce a Hemingway.

I don’t know whether Matt Lucas and David Walliams read Vidal or Hemingway, but in Little Britain USA, the recently launched HBO spin-off of their hit UK TV comedy sketch series (which is also airing on BBC1), they seem to be posing that question again – though this time the answer has some bearing on the likelihood of Stateside success of their show. In Little Britain USA ‘Our Boys’ (as a cheer-leading UK media seem to have tagged the camp duo) have put their probing finger on one of the most ticklish fault-lines of US culture: how ‘gay’ big butch God-fearing America can seem – and how comically in denial of this Americans can be.

There certainly seems to be a bit of Hemingway, who loved his guns, in the moustachioed cop (played by Walliams) who gets a visible hard-on while demonstrating his impressive collection of weapons to his fellow officers. But it’s in the steroid-scary shape of the towel-snapping ‘Gym Buddies’, Tom and Mark, who like to take long showers together after pumping iron, and graphically re-enacting what they did to the ‘pussy’ they pulled last night – with each other’s huge latex bubble-butts and tiny penises – that the so-butch-it’s-camp not-so-hidden secret of American culture is graphically outed by Little Britain USA.

Along with pathological denial. In last week’s episode, when an alarmed bystander glances nervously at them humping naked in the locker room they retort: ‘Whaddyou lookin at? Are you A FAG??’  Walliams, who is so camp he’s almost butch (a ladies’ man off-screen he has been described repeatedly by the UK press as ‘the ultimate metrosexual’), seems especially proud of the Gym Buddies sketch – describing it as ‘possibly the most outrageous we’ve ever done’. Certainly it’s drawn most fire from critics in the US, who have given the series very mixed reviews.

Lucas and Walliam’s gleefully amoral queer sensibility – they’re basically drag queens on a revenge trip, especially when they dress up as men – was always going to be difficult for America to swallow. But touching Uncle Sam up in the locker room may well make it a lot harder… er, I mean, more difficult. America, even that part of it that watches HBO, may not want to get that joke. Especially when made by a couple of faggy Brits. And by the way, while we over here might think American butchness tres gay – e.g. the locker-room and volley-ball scenes in Top Gun – all Europeans look ‘faggy’ to Americans, especially us Brits. The sketch featuring Walliams as a flaming Brit Prime Minister trying to get into the straight black US President’s pants probably won’t offend as much as Walliams hopes since most Americans thought Tony Blair was gay anyway.

Rather sweetly, compared to the UK, America is a country where masculinity and machismo is still sacred – despite having done more than any other country to make it obsolete by inventing men’s shopping magazines. In the US of A, it seems, anything masculine can’t be gay and vice versa. Hence Hummersexual Tom and Mark. Hence ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’. And hence all that fuss the US made over that mediocre gay cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain which, when it arrived in the UK, promptly bored everyone senseless.

America’s love of the masculine body, is gloriously ‘gay’ – or, more accurately, homoerotic.  But alas, until now Uncle Sam has been terribly ashamed of his natural, red-blooded and blatantly bloody obvious bi-responsiveness.

Only America, God Bless, could have produced UFC, a hugely popular pay-per-view ‘full-contact-sport’ that involves two young muscled men in shorts trying to get each other’s legs around their ears (Tom and Mark probably watch it together – in their UFC shorts). Only America could produce a best-selling men’s workout magazine like Men’s Health, put men’s pumped tits and abs on the cover every month and strenuously maintain the pretence that none of its readers are gay or bisexual – or even metrosexual. Only America could produce a film like last year’s ‘300′, essentially a toga-themed Chippendale flick for teen boys – but because it was made for American teen boys its denial was even more preposterous than its pectorals: the baddie had to be a big black club queen in a spangly Speedo.

Mind you, ‘300′ had at least one virtue, albeit unintentional: it was rather funnier than Little Britain USA. Perhaps the biggest problem Walliams and Lucas face in ramming their sensibility down Uncle Sam’s throat isn’t America’s gay denial or gagging reluctance to see the camp joke, but simply the fact that, on the basis of the first couple of shows, their American ‘outing’just isn’t very funny.

Either side of the pond.

Edward Carpenter – The Utopian Uranian

Mark Simpson on the forgotten ‘English Whitman’

(Independent on Sunday, 5 October, 2008)

On his 80th birthday in 1924, five years before his death, the socialist Utopian poet, mystic, activist, homophile, environmentalist, feminist and nudist Edward Carpenter received an album signed by every member of Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Cabinet. Glowing tributes appeared in the socialist papers as well as the Manchester Guardian, the Observer, the Evening Standard and even the Egyptian Gazette. He was hailed by the philosopher C.E.M. Joad as the harbinger, no less, of modernity itself: ‘Carpenter denounced the Victorians for hypocrisy, held up their conventions to ridicule, and called their civilisation a disease,’ he wrote. ‘He was like a man coming into a stuffy sitting room in a seaside boarding house, and opening the window to let in light and air…’.

In the early Twentieth Century Carpenter was a celebrity, a hero, a guru, a prophet, a confidant: an Edwardian Morrissey, Moses and Claire Raynor in one. Multitudes of men and women – but mostly young men – had beaten a path to his door in his idyllic rural retreat-cum-socialist-boarding-house in Millthorpe, near Sheffield to sit at his vegetarian, be-sandled feet, or take part in his morning sun-baths and sponge-downs in his back garden.

Soon after his death, however, his charismatic reputation faded faster than a Yorkshire tan. By the middle of the century he was the height of unfashionability, and regarded by many on the left as a crank. When that manly Eton-educated proletarian George Orwell decried the left’s habit of attracting ‘every fruit juice drinker, nudist, sandal wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, “Nature Cure” quack, pacifist and feminist in England’ everyone knew whom he was dissing.

Today very few would. Despite his extensive writings, despite – or perhaps because of – the way many of his causes and indeed much of his lifestyle have become mainstream, and despite the brief renaissance of his works with the gay left after the emergence of gay lib in the 60s and 70s – a movement which he appeared to predict – and a hefty, worthy and yet also fascinating new biography by the feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham (Edward Carpenter: A Life of Love and Liberty; Verso) notwithstanding, it sometimes seems as there’s almost nothing left of Ted, as his friends called him, save his beard and sandals (he seems to have introduced sandal-wearing to these shores). He’s become the Cheshire cat of fin de siècle English Utopianism. In fact, one could argue, and I will, that the thing that connects most of us with Carpenter today is EM Forster’s arse.

George Merrill, Carpenter’s uninhibited Sheffield working-class partner touched Forster’s repressed Cambridge backside during a visit to Milthorpe in 1912:

‘…gently and just above the buttocks. I believe he touched most peoples. The sensation was unusual and I still remember it, as I remember the position of a long-vanished tooth. It was as much psychological as physical. It seemed to go straight through the small of my back into my ideas, without involving any thought.’

Inspired by Merrill’s tykish directness, Forster, went home, sat down on his probably still-tingling buttocks and wrote the first ‘gay’ novel Maurice, which famously featuring a love-affair between Scudder the sunburnt and impetuous groundsman Alec and the uptight, middle-class Maurice. Though it wasn’t to be published until after terminally timid Forster’s death, DH Lawrence saw the manuscript and was himself touched: Lady Chatterley’s Lover is in many ways a heterosexualised Maurice. And of course, when Maurice was made into a film in the 1980s starring James Wilby and Rupert Graves succeeded in making millions of rumps, male and female, tingle at a time when homosexuality, as a result of Section 28 and Aids had become a major cultural battleground.

Before Merrill, Edward Carpenter’s buttocks had been touched by the American sage Walt Whitman and his passionately romantic poems about male comradeship, frequently involving working men and sailors, whom he travelled to the US to meet (though it is unclear whether here the touching was literal or metaphorical). Carpenter became a kind of English Whitman figure, though more outspoken on the subject of toleration of same-sex love than Whitman ever dared to be in the US – if not, alas, nearly as fine a poet (another reason why his work hasn’t endured).

Lytton Strachey decreed sniffily that Alec and Maurice’s relationship rested upon ‘lust and sentiment’ and would only last six weeks. Whatever Merrill and Edward Carpenter’s relationship was based on – and Robotham argues that it was rather complicated and not what it appeared to be – it lasted nearly 40 years, and was an inspiration to many.

Carpenter was nothing if not sentimental, when he wasn’t being just patronising. He described Merrill as his ‘dear son’, his ‘simple nature child’ his ‘rose in winter’ his ‘ruby embedded in marl and clay’ and delighted in Merrill’s lack of guilt about ‘the seamy side of life’. Raised in the Sheffield slums and without any formal education Merrill was almost untouched by Christianity. On hearing that Jesus had spent his last night on Gethsemane Merrill’s response was “who with?”

It was Merrill’s – and the innumerable other working class male lovers that Carpenter had both before and after meeting him – lack of ‘self-consciousness’, or perceived lack of it, that attracted Carpenter, who was born into an upright upper middle class family in Hove, Brighton (and it was his sizeable inheritance that financed his purchase of Milthorpe and his comradely life in the North). He was drawn to the working classes because he saw them as rescuing him from himself – as much as he was rescuing them.

‘Eros is a great leveller’, Carpenter wrote in The Intermediate Sex. ‘Perhaps the true democracy rests, more firmly than anywhere else, on a sentiment which easily passes the bounds of class and caste, and unites in the closest affection the most estranged ranks of society’. He observed that many ‘Uranians’ ‘of good position and breeding are drawn to rougher types, as of manual workers, and frequently very permanent alliances grow up in this way.’

It’s worth pointing out that even Wilde and Bosie’s relationship, which was to cause Forster and many other homosexuals at that time such grief, was based on their mutual enjoyment of rent boys. Carpenter disapproved of such exploitation, but it’s not impossible to imagine Wilde, or one of his characters, jesting that people like Carpenter were socialists only because they didn’t want to pay for their trade.

Robotham to her credit doesn’t shrink from pointing out the limits of Carpenter’s socialism: ‘Carpenter never queried his own tacit presumption that the lower classes and subordinated races were to be defended when vulnerable and abject but treated with contempt when they sought individual advancement.’ To this it could be added that if Carpenter succeeded in abolishing class, then with it would be abolished the interest in the working classes of men like Carpenter. Each man kills the thing he loves.

What though was working class youth’s interest in Carpenter? In a word: attention. It seems they were flattered to be singled out and treated with casual equality by a gent, and an attractive, charming one at that. One young lover wrote of Carpenter: ‘You feel inclined to get hold of him as a boy would his mate’ and talked of his ‘Handsome appearance – his erect, lithe body, trim and bearded face, penetrating eyes and beautiful voice.’ Carpenter was to continue attracting young working class men to his door well into silver-haired old age.

Carpenter had a contradictory view of homosexuality, seeing those exclusively attracted to their own sex as psychically androgynous ‘intermediates’ like himself who were ‘born that way’ – but also as harbingers of a new age, the cultural ‘advance guard’ of socialism in which a Utopian androgyny would be the norm. Not everyone shared his enthusiasm for a future world of Carpenters. George Bernard Shaw for one was enraged by the idea that ‘intermediacy’ should be recommended to ‘the normal’ as the desired way to be.

EM Forster described Carpenter’s mysticism as the usual contradiction of wanting ‘merge with the cosmos and retain identity’ at the same time. This in fact described pretty much everything, from Ted’s attitude towards comradeship and homosexuality, class and socialism, and even Millthorpe where he would write standing in a sentry box in he had built in his garden while his ‘retreat’ was overrun by guests.

His championing of androgyny and female emancipation also had contradictions. Robotham describes his horror and disgust at the androgyny of a Siva statue he witnessed on a mystical visit to India as being ‘akin to the disgust he had felt at seeing the female nudes in a French art gallery…’. For Carpenter, ‘acceptable femininity consisted of lithe gay men and supportive, tom-boyish sister figures.’

Carpenter’s works were taken up by the gay libbers and New Left in the 60s and 70s partly because of his rejection of male and female sex-roles and also because of his proto-gay-commune lifestyle in Millthorpe, with his open relationship with Merrill (and also several local married men). For Carpenter, the personal was political long before it became a lapel button.

But in the 1980s gay lib was replaced by gay consumerism, ‘intermediates’, particularly many working class ones keen to advance themselves, turned out to be the vanguard not of a back-to-basics socialist Utopia but of High Street Thatcherism. The mainstreaming of ‘lifestylism’ happened largely because it was divorced from politics – and Carpenter – and became about shopping. Which would have horrified Ted who had an upper middle class disdain for ‘trade’ (the shopkeeping kind).  Lord only knows what he would have made of the consumerist androgyny of the metrosexual.

Perhaps the most lasting and pertinent thing about his life is a question: How on Earth did the old bugger get away with it? How did he avoid a huge scandal? How did he end up so lionised in his old age? Especially when you consider what happened to Wilde?

The answer is probably the same reason for his lack of appeal today. His prose now seems often strangely precious and oblique and replete with coy, coded classical references. Worst of all for modern audiences, he necessarily downplayed the sexual aspect of same-sex love. His most influential work ‘Homogenic Love’, published in 1895, the first British book to deal with the subject of same-sex desire as something other than a medical or moral problem, rejects the word ‘homosexual’ ostensibly on the grounds that it was a ‘bastard’ word of Greek and Latin, but probably because the Latin part was too much to the point.

Class helped too: when the police threatened to prosecute some of his works as obscene he was able to scare them off with an impressively long list of Establishment supporters. Even his live-in relationship with Merrill was often seen as one of master and servant (and in fact that’s how Merrill, who was financially dependent on Carpenter, was legally described).

ESP Haynes suspected that Carpenter might not be as simple as he presented himself, that his mysticism ‘gave him a certain detachment which protected him against prosecution as a heretic’. To which Rowbotham drily remarks: ‘As for the non-mystical Merrill, he just tried out the idealistic admirers’. (Or as that other Northern prophet Morrissey was to sing many years later: ‘I recognise that mystical air/it means I’d like to seize your underwear.’)

Whatever Carpenter’s survival secret, it’s rather wonderful for us that he did, and although his haziness may be part of the reason he fades in and mostly out of consciousness today, as Robotham concludes her sympathetic yet clear-eyed study: ‘One thing is certain, this complicated, confusing, contradictory yet courageous man is not going to vanish entirely from view.’

Paul Newman the American Dream-Boy is Dead

Timing is everything for an actor, and Newman’s curtain-call, coming as it does amidst meltdown on Wall Street and panic on Capitol Hill, and at the end of a decade defined by the twin disasters of 9-11 and Iraq, is nothing if not dramatic.  The myriad obituaries and tributes to Paul Newman in the last few days have been richly deserved, but his passing seems to symbolize more than just the death of a great and well-loved actor, or even the curtain falling on one of the last products of the Hollywood studio system.  It seems almost to mark the demise of the American Dream itself.  A dream that is looking more and more like a distinctly mid-to-late 20th Century reverie.

But what a reverie! Newman was stunning in his youth, like a neo-Classical Florentine statue brought very magically to life: those proud cheekbones, that straight nose connecting with his thoughtful brow, the square dimpled chin and his tight little (non-steroidal) boxer body, that claspable neck, those white teeth, those pouting lips and those preternaturally pale blue eyes, more inviting than penetrating, that seemed to contain in their coolness, the un-spoilt, exciting, abundant promise of America’s plains, lakes and shining seas. The fact that in his personal life he turned out to be an extraordinarily generous and socially-concerned chap makes that promise even more poignant.

Newman, who himself was part of the ‘Greatest Generation’ (he served in the Pacific during the Second World War), was the post-war American Dream made beautiful, friendly flesh. Somehow, projected on silver screens around the world in the 1950s and 1960s, this demigod managed to be entirely desirable but also entirely approachable. In other words: American. Everyone, male and female, wanted to buy him a drink and be his buddy or lover or both – and, crucially, thought they could be. Newman was one of the actors (all from the 1950s and 1960s) I watched as a kid on TV that made me announce to anyone that would listen that ‘when I grow up I’m going to move to America to become mates with those blokes in the movies!’.

In terms of projecting the American way of life around the world, Hollywood’s Paul Newman was worth more than a fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers – and probably rather more fun in bed.

It’s no accident that Newman’s two most popular movies were both buddy-love vehicles with the (almost) equally all-American Robert Redford: ‘Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid’ (1969) and ‘The Sting’ (1973). Newman seems to have been slightly exasperated that most people had missed the point of ‘Butch Cassidy’: that it was a film about male love – a male romance. It was in many ways the original and much superior Brokeback Mountain, thirty years before the tedious, mawkish Ang Lee ‘remake’. For my popcorn money, Butch/Newman’s and Sundance/Redford’s love for each other is much more convincing and affecting than that of their Noughties men’s-fashion-shoot-with-a-Western-theme counterparts, despite never being consummated.

Newman’s tough vulnerability and deliciously flawed masculinity seem to have made his relationship to homosexuality symbolically central to his cinematic persona; the fact he seems to have been a very happily married heterosexual in ‘real’ life only adds to his mythos.  Below is a YouTube clip of Newman (with a Placebo soundtrack you can mute), pouting peerlessly as Brick in the 1958 movie version of Tennessee Williams classic ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ as an all-American jock struggling with his secret love for Skipper his buddy who has committed suicide, Big Daddy’s expectations of a grandson and the ‘mendacity’ of family-values American life.

Because of the mendacity of 1950s Hollywood, the movie-version of William’s script bowdlerised Brick’s latent homosexuality.  However, such was the troubled erotic power of Newman’s appearance on the screen that the original meaning still somehow shines through, despite the baby-making happy ending.

Perhaps it’s just me, but all these years later Elizabeth Taylor, wonderfully youthfully glamorous as she is here, now sometimes looks less like Brick’s wife and more like his incestuous young mother.  There was already something not quite right about the American Dream back in the 1950s, and Tennessee Williams couldn’t leave it alone.

As for the rest of us, we couldn’t leave Paul Newman alone.

Ultimate Pillowbiting – How Gay is MMA?

This month’s Out magazine includes a feature by yours truly on my visit to Montreal in April to see the biggest, baddest, ballsiest Ultimate Fighting Championship event ever. UFC, for those who aren’t in the know, or unaccountably uninterested in seeing fit, near-naked men grappling and grunting, is the cage-fighting craze that is rapidly becoming the most popular sport with young men in North America.

Out tell me my take has provoked some threats against my pretty face from outraged MMA fans. It seems my crime was enjoying it too much. Other less shall we say clenched followers of this man-mounting sport have however welcomed my interest – even if I breathe too heavily.

Here’s how the piece begins:

Imagine the space shuttle taking off with a really fat customized exhaust pipe or the Visigoths sacking Ancient Rome with kicking bass tubes fitted to their 4-by-4s. Or 20,000 supercharged male orgasms. Simultaneously. And you have some idea what it sounds and feels like in Montreal’s famous Bell Centre tonight for Ultimate Fighting Championship 83, as a spunky young carrot redhead in shorts pins an auburn lad on his back with his heels somewhere around his ears. I think the technical term for this is a “full mount.” Or maybe it’s “ground and pound.”

As the chiseled and blond bad guy with the low-slung shorts (Cam Gigandet) in the recent mixed martial arts (MMA) exploitation flick Never Back Down says leeringly to the doe-eyed brunet boxer good guy (Sean Faris) new to MMA, the good news is that in this sport you can choke, kick, punch, pin, and throttle; “the bad news is that it’s gotta end with you looking like a bitch in front of everybody.” Perhaps it was bad news for him — and for the auburn lad in the ring tonight — but certainly not for the 22,000-strong overwhelmingly young-male audience for the biggest-ever UFC event.

Over 2,500 miles away in Las Vegas, “slapper” Brit boxer Joe Calzaghe is tonight defeating light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins on points. In the long-established world of boxing, there is rumored to be an ancient and secret tradition called the “perk,” or “perquisite” — by which the losing man may be required later to literally give up what he has lost symbolically. In other words, the fucked gets…really fucked.

I don’t know how much truth there is to the “perk,” though the breathless trash talk of modern-day boxers in the run-up to a fight — “I’m gonna make you my bitch/girlfriend/punk” — certainly doesn’t discredit it. But I’m fairly certain that the “perk” doesn’t exist in the “full-contact” brave new world of mixed martial arts, an omnivorous blend of boxing, freestyle wrestling, judo, tae kwon do, kickboxing, karate, jujitsu, and Thai boxing that is rapidly replacing boring old traditional boxing, especially among young men, as the fighting sport. The perk isn’t needed. Because in MMA you get fucked in the “ring” in front of everybody. On pay-per-view TV. The “perk” is the whole, er, perking point, man. And UFC, by far the most successful purveyor of MMA fights for the cable TV voyeur, looks remarkably like gay porn for straight men: Ultimate Fuck-Fighting.

Read the article in full here.

Manlove for Ladies on Torchwood

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The phenomenon of manlove for ladies, which I wrote about recently, citing The Mighty Boosh snog, seems to be catching:

‘Former Buffy the Vampire star James Marsters helped fulfil one of his girlfriend’s fantasies on the set of sci-fi series Torchwood – when he locked lips with John Barrowman.

The actor plays flamboyant bisexual Captain John in the cult TV show and had to share a same sex kiss for the first time.

Marsters says, “I had never kissed a man on film before, but luckily my girlfriend was there, and she said it was always a fantasy of hers that I would kiss another man. She thought it was really hot.”‘

Torchwood was created by Russell T Davies, the writer behind the hit drama Queer As Folk set in Manchester’s gay village – a series whose success was largely down to its huge popularity with women.  Probably because it was basically: Take That Finally Get Down To It.

Speaking personally, John Barrowman is about as unsexy as you can get – even with James Marsters dressed as Adam Ant plastered all over his face.

But what do I know? It’s the ladies calling the queer shots now.

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