The finest little bar on the Seven Seas is closing. After forty years of entertaining the sailors of the Royal Navy, Charles’ Hole in t’Wall in Gibraltar is shuttering its doors, bringing an end to a very special chapter in British maritime and marytime history.
This report from GBC gives some idea how much of an institution the bar and most particularly owner and star-attraction Charles have been for matelots on their ‘run ashore’ in Gib – and how much they love their ‘lovely Charlie’.
Here’s how I met Charles, back in the late Nineties. It was initially a disappointment to find the Fleet out and his bar deserted, but it turned out to be a great stroke of luck for me – because it meant that I had the privilege of having lovely Charles all to myself.
There will be a range of very interesting, esteemed and knowledgeable contributors, and I will have the slightly unnerving honour of presenting the opening lecture, ‘From Metrosexual to Spornosexual: A Spectacular, Permanent Revolution’, on Wednesday 18th November at 6pm. So I’ll be sure to show plenty of slides and video clips of much hotter chaps than me.
The following day at 15.30 I’ll be on a panel discussing Men and Representations, presenting a short, mostly clean talk probing ‘Mainstream Male Anal(ity)’.
So says pretty much everyone in Legend about Tom Hardy’s looks. And the latest re-telling of the story of Ronald and Reginald Kray, the sharp-suited, impeccably-groomed, glamorous gangster twins who ruled 1960s London’s underworld, is a mostly enjoyable movie which often gladdens the eye (even if it makes you wince a bit during the violent scenes).
How could it not? After all, it stars not one, but two Tom Hardys – he plays, as everyone must know now since it’s the whole conceit of the movie, both twins.
Despite this, it does manage to get a little boring sometimes. Legend makes the mistake of thinking that we’re more interested in ‘Reggie’ than ‘Ronnie’ – because he wasn’t the mad, ‘gay’ one.
So it has a from-beyond-the-grave voice-over ostensibly provided by Reggie’s first wife, Frances Shea (Emily Browning) who committed suicide in 1967, two years after their marriage. The narrative focus of the film is essentially on what it portrays as her doomed attempt to ‘save’ Reggie, domesticate him and make him ‘normal’ – and how this eventually kills her. But no one, apart from Frances, wants him to be normal (and maybe she didn’t either: her family disputes the film’s victimy portrayal of her). Certainly the audience doesn’t, they just want him to get busy with a ball-hammer.
What everyone – or was it just me? – wanted from Legend was a gayer version of Hardy’s best performance as Britain’s longest-serving solitary-confinement muscular psychopath in Bronson (2008) – which come to think of it was pretty gay anyway. And you do get some of that when ‘Ron’ is on camera: Hardy’s ‘fat poof’ is often frighteningly funny.
But I put the names ‘Reggie’ and ‘Ronnie’ in quotes because at a visual level Legend isn’t about the gangster twins, or London in the 1960s. It’s about Tom and his very ‘hot’, very 21st Century, very narcissistic on-screen sexuality – split into two halves, mad, ugly, gay ‘Reggie’ – and straight, pretty, sympathetic ‘Ronnie’, which fight it out for dominance in this psycho costume drama.
That’s why everyone talks about how ‘lahvelee’ ‘Reggie’ is. Reggie Kray certainly wasn’t bad looking for a gangster, and he scrubbed up very nicely, but he was definitely no Tom Hardy (and Hardy, son of South West London bohemians, is definitely no Cockney). It’s also why we marvel at how ugly Tom manages to make himself as ‘Ronnie’ – so that when ‘Ronnie’ says that ‘Reggie’ got all the looks we actually find ourselves agreeing instead of laughing at the in-gag.
Any film about the Krays would struggle to remain focused on the Krays with Hardy in it. He’s proper Hollywood. But with two Hardys it stands no chance – the twins, their story and the mythology end up spit-roasted by Hardy’s double-ended charisma and great performances (even though his ‘Ron’ did look a bit like a David Walliams character sometimes).
So it shouldn’t perhaps be surprising that the questions get a bit personal. Hardy, 37, who is married (to a woman), famously ‘shut down’ a gay reporter at a press conference for Legend recently when he contrasted his character Ronnie’s openness about his sexuality with what he called Hardy’s ‘ambiguous sexuality’ as suggested in previous interviews.
‘What on earth are you on about?’ retorted Hardy, clearly annoyed, eventually clarifying the question himself: ‘Are you asking me about my sexuality?’ ‘Sure’ replied the reporter. ‘Why?’ asked Hardy. When no reply came, Hardy dismissed him with a curt ‘Thank you’.
The interview the reporter had in mind was a candid one Hardy gave a gay magazine in 2008 (to publicise RocknRolla, in which he played a gay gangster) where he acknowledged he had experimented sexually with men when he was younger: “’As a boy? Of course I have. I’m an actor for f***’s sake. I’m an artist. I’ve played with everything and everyone,” he said. “But I’m not into men sexually. I love the form and the physicality but the gay sex bit does nothing for me.”
After a backlash from some of the gay commentariat to Hardy’s rather more clenched response to the 2015 press conference probings, Hardy stated:
“I’m under no obligation to share anything to do with my family, my children, my sexuality – that’s nobody’s business but my own. And I don’t see how that can have anything to do with what I do as an actor, and it’s my own business.”
Despite the apparent use of his family and children as sexuality shields in that sentence, the gist of it is true. I also have some sympathy for Tom’s pique at being asked about his ‘sexuality’ (which always means non-heterosexuality) at a crowded press conference, being a married Hollywood heartthrob these days. Moreover, the seven-year-old interview quotes from the earlier part of his career don’t actually demonstrate that his own sexuality is ‘ambiguous’ or that he is now hiding anything – at most he stated that he was bi-curious when younger but is no longer.
That said, Legend is a film which makes his on-screen sexuality into a business. Show business. The drama of the movie is Hardy’s bi/two-sexual cinematic personae. Legend is a bit like Top Gun, but with ‘Tom’ playing both Ice Man (Val Kilmer) and Maverick – where Ice Man wins (and Kelly McGillis kills herself).
‘Reggie’, Hardy’s straight half, aspires, somewhat, to normality; ‘Ronnie’, Hardy’s gay half, revels in deviancy and keeps dragging ‘Reggie’ back to the bent and crooked – and making sure they never part. That’s why Ron is portrayed as openly – and unambiguously – homosexual (“I’m a ‘omosexual”, “I prefer boys”) not interested in women, when in fact he described himself as bisexual (and married a woman while in prison). Reg is portrayed as straight, when he seems to have also been bisexual, but not so openly as Ron.
Yes, sexuality is a confusing business. No wonder the movie simplifies things – just like the popular press.
Reginald reportedly ‘came out’ in a letter published shortly after his death. Here’s how it was covered in a UK tabloid the Sunday People in 2000, headlined: ‘REGGIE KRAY CONFESSES FROM GRAVE: I AM GAY’:
GANGSTER Reggie Kray has made an amazing confession from beyond the grave – his hardman image concealed that he was GAY.
Reggie poured out his darkest secret in a letter written as he faced blackmail over his homosexuality.
He handed me the astonishing two-page admission in a prison visiting room and asked for it to be published after his death.
So there you have it. Reggie was a self-confessed (dead) GAY homosexual. Except he wasn’t. The very next sentence in the same report reads:
The once-feared East End crime boss wrote: “I wish for the public to know that I am bisexual.”
‘Gay’ and ‘homosexual’ are often mixed up with ‘bisexual’ in the accounts of the twins’ lives, because culturally we tend to mix up ‘gay’ and ‘bi’ when talking about men. Although attitudes are changing, we often still too often think of male bisexuality as ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ or ‘queer’ (because it’s ‘emasculating’ – e.g. ‘once-feared’). Whereas female bisexuality tends to be thought of as heterosexual (because it’s ‘hot’, or because female sexuality is ‘complicated’). And as Hardy himself has discovered, admitting to a bi-curious youth can mean that you are assumed to be at least bisexual or ‘ambiguous’ in the bedroom as an adult.
I don’t claim to know anything about Hardy’s ‘real’ sexuality – I’m totally out of the celebrity sex gossip loop, which frankly, is usually mythology and fantasy anyway, even and especially when provided by other celebs. Likewise, ‘gaydar’ is a very faulty instrument indeed, prone to squealing feedback and hair-raising short-circuits. (And unlike it seems almost everyone else on the planet, I have no information and no opinion on the other Hollywood Tom’s ‘real’ sexuality either.)
Besides, a few slutty selfies aside, I’m much more interested in Tom H’s on-screen sexuality. Which is radiantly, brazenly bi-responsive. It’s not ambiguous – it’s ambisexual. Hardy’s dazzling bi-brilliance lights up the screen – it is what makes him such a charismatic, watchable actor, in the mould, dare I say it, of some of the greats, such as James Dean and Marlon Brando (cutely, Tom is the same titchy height 5’9”, as Marlon).
There’s a rather ridiculous Romeo & Juliet scene in Legend where a drunken ‘Reggie’ proposes to Frances through her bedroom window at the top of a drainpipe. But thanks to Tom’s tender talents, instead of scoffing at the cheesiness of it, you find yourself hoping, when the hard man fishes out the engagement ring, that he doesn’t fall and hurt his lahvlee face.
Regardless of his private sexuality, the ‘business’ of Hardy’s on-screen sexuality in many of his other movies is definitely not monosexual, depending as it does on a certain homoerotic-homosocial appeal, and a ‘hard man’/‘soft man’ tension, androgyny even. In addition to his early Band of Brothers/Black Hawk Down fresh-faced, all-boys-together soldierly roles, he’s, as we’ve seen, played a gay gangster before. In Inception he psychically ‘cross-dressed’ and delivered some wonderfully camp lines with panache: “Mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”
In Warrior (2011) he played a heavily-muscled young MMA fighter forced to wrestle his equally fit brother in a Speedo – but with a happy ending. Even the bottom-feeder comedy This Means War (2012), in which two CIA killers compete for the same girl, was primarily about the passionately Platonic romance between him and Chris Pine, an actor who seems to be 70% hair and 30% teeth. It was only Hardy’s sympathetic skills as an actor and his dazzling bi-brilliance that made you care about their relationship, Pine or that atrocity of a movie at all.
Hardy has a special proclivity for playing ‘hard men’ who are soft and receptive inside. It’s what makes him such an entrancing sight on the silver screen, for men and women alike. It’s all there in his sweetly engaging face and twinkly eyes, with those big kissable, suckable lips – atop his street-fighter body (young Brando had an angel’s face on a stevedore’s body). Perhaps because of his appreciation for ‘the form and physicality’ of masculinity, Tom is the kind of bloke a lot of straight lads would ‘go gay’ for – and plenty of gay ones would go even gayer for. A man’s man in the modern sense of the phrase. Hardy’s career has been made at the place where desire and identification meet.
There is a magical kind of misrecognition involved in going to the movies: you see, especially when younger, the movie star as your idealised self. Your twin who is identical with what you should be, rather than what you are. In the darkness of the cinema, the brilliant shadow on the screen becomes your real, long lost twin – you sitting in the dark are the false, found one.
Which brings us back to the sexuality of Legend and the doubly-doomed nature of the deceased wife attempted-redemption storyline. Twins are by their very nature ‘homosexual’ that is ‘same-sexual’ – at least to non-twins looking in. They share the same conception, the same womb at the same time, the same birth, as wells as usually the same infancy, potty-training and childhood, and the same puberty. Intimacies far beyond those of lovers. Identical twins also reflect one another, in a narcissistic fashion. In a sense, they are born with the life-companion everyone else has to search for – and they can also watch themselves starring in the movie of their own lives.
So no wonder the Krays’ biographer recently claimed that the twins had sex with one another when adolescents. Or, as the Daily Mail headline put it: ‘THEY FOUGHT AS ONE. THEY KILLED AS ONE. BUT DID THE KRAY TWIN’S UNCANNY BOND LEAD THEM TO BREAK THE ULTIMATE TABOO?’.
Whether or not it’s true, it’s something that should definitely have been included in Legend. Tom-on-Tom action should not have been restricted to those fight scenes….
‘There is no middle ground – you are either heterosexual or homosexual.’
Until quite recently, this statement was regarded as common sense. More than this, it was a kind of widely-shared article of quasi religious faith, as prescriptive as it was descriptive. An Eleventh Commandment.
Heterosexuality was the default, normal, right, setting and anything that strayed from that was homosexuality. That is to say: sinful, wrong, ill, odd, hilarious, niche.
This heterocentric, essentially monosexual world-view was not just conventional wisdom for many straight people. It was also shared by surprisingly large number of (usually older) gay people, who sometimes regard bisexuality as a kind of heresy, or at least a cop out. What’s not straight must be gay, otherwise you’re just kidding yourself and letting the side down.
But common sense can change. And articles of religious faith can fall. There has been a revolution in attitudes in recent years that has shaken sexual certainties to the core. Compulsory heterosexuality, and the idea that any ‘deviation’ from it is homosexual, is no longer so compulsory. People have lost their faith in monosexuality.
According to a recent, widely-publicised YouGov survey less than a third of UK residents now agree that when it comes to sexuality ‘There is no middle ground – you are either heterosexual or homosexual’. While nearly two thirds (60%) agree with the once heretical statement ‘sexuality is a scale – it is possible to be somewhere near the middle’.
Most strikingly of all, this figure rose to three quarters of 18-24 year olds. Half of whom placed themselves somewhere on that scale as something other than 100% heterosexual. While a remarkable 43% of them describe themselves as being, to some degree, bi-responsive.
It was the pioneering American sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, who invented the 0-6 scale used in the YouGov poll (0 = totally heterosexual; 6 = totally homosexual) back in the 1940s. Like Sigmund Freud, Kinsey believed that humans were basically bi-responsive, that human sexuality was a spectrum and that humanity could not be divided up into gay goats and straight sheep. Kinsey argued that although most of the pressure was to be heterosexual, society’s ostracism of homosexuals also forced them into exclusive relations with the same sex. In a society with less restrictive mores, in which homosexuality was tolerated and integrated, Kinsey, who was himself bisexual, believed sexual interaction with both sexes would become the norm.
Seventy years on, mores have become less restrictive, the stigmatisation of homosexuality has greatly diminished – and the availability and insatiability of online porn has opened the eyes of many to practises once deemed so immoral and unnatural they were unmentionable. And on paper, it would appear that Kinsey has been largely vindicated – at least as far as young UK heterosexuals are concerned.
The fact that only half of 18-24s say they are completely heterosexual is a sign that the younger generation is abandoning monosexuality as a belief system – which has to appear to be a universal truth, not a minority or ‘niche’ cult. It’s also an indication that a theoretical level of bi-responsiveness has become or is becoming the norm. Most may not be actively exploring it (20% of 18-24s and 27% of 25-39s say they have had sex with someone of the same sex), and most of the less than 100% heteros huddle at the heterosexual end of the spectrum, but they are touchingly keen to be – or at least appear to be – open-minded. Half of heterosexual 18-24s say that if the right person of the same sex came along at the right time they could be attracted to them.
Perhaps the collapse of compulsory heterosexuality and the crisis of monosexuality shouldn’t be so surprising. A couple of years ago a survey into male grooming found that half of UK men now describe themselves as metrosexual, and want to be beautiful. Men, especially young men, have in the last decade or so, been given permission to enjoy products, pleasures, practises, prettiness and potentials that were previously strictly for ‘girls and gays’.
Little wonder that as gender norms have relaxed they have become more open-minded about sexuality itself. As I’ve argued before, men in general are less hard on the gays nowadays because they’re less hard on themselves – no longer needing so much to project their ‘weaknesses’ into the despised, or just patronised, ‘other’.
Instead, they now want to show how accepting they are of the ‘other’ – but most particularly they want those kinda fun, kinda kinky ‘weaknesses’ back now, thanks very much, now that they are much more into themselves than they used to be.
In Kinsey’s own country the US, where monosexuality was even more entrenched than in the UK, a sea-change is afoot too, but one that seems by some measures to lag behind the UK, and lead it by others. A YouGov survey there published shortly after the UK one found that 31% of under-30s plot themselves as something other than completely heterosexual on the Kinsey scale – compared to 78% of the general population who say they are completely heterosexual, and 4% who say that they are completely homosexual.
Unfortunately, there is no 18-24 category in the US data, so that 31% figure for under 30 non-heterosexuality is difficult to compare properly with the UK figure of 49% (though the UK figure for the next age category 25-39 is 42%). However, as in the UK there is clearly a major generational shift at work, with young people being much more open-minded. ‘No homo’ isn’t quite so ‘no homo’ as it used to be.
Some of the other data available does suggest that the US is still more monosexualist than the UK. Nearly half (48%) of Americans believe ‘there is no middle ground – you are either heterosexual or you are not’ compared to only 27% of Brits. (However, the UK question/statement reads: ‘there is no middle ground – you are either heterosexual or homosexual’; the US question/statement replaces ‘homosexual’ with ‘not’, which is perhaps itself symbolic).
Which is to say, half of America does not believe there is such a thing as bisexuality, and thus any deviation from heterosexuality is just homosexuality. Amongst Republicans that increases to 63% – and stands at 58% in the South, suggesting a monotheistic basis to monosexuality.
Only 39% of Americans agree with the statement that sexuality is a scale – compared to 61% of Brits. And only 27% of US heterosexuals say that if the right person came along they could possibly be attracted to a person of the same sex, compared to 38% of Brits. (Though this may be a function of British politeness.)
All that said, c. five times as many young Americans identify as bisexual as young Brits. 10% of American 18-29s, compared to just 2% of UK 18-24s, and 2% of Americans of all ages. And five times fewer young Americans identify as gay or lesbian than UK young people do: 10% of UK 18-24s (compared to 6% for all ages) and 2% of US 18-29s (compared to 4% for all ages).
It’s difficult to know for sure, especially from this side of the Pond, whether this is a measure of greater enlightenment and inclusivity about sexuality amongst young people in the US and a related diminished need for distinct gay and lesbian identities – proving Kinsey right about gay people becoming less sexually exclusive as they became more integrated. Or whether something else is going on, especially given the lower levels of tolerance and acceptance for homosexuality in the US compared to the UK. Perhaps as some older gay people like to complain, young gay and lesbian Americans are ‘hiding’ their ‘true’ sexuality in ‘fashionable’ bisexuality..
Or maybe the reason so many young Americans choose to identify as bisexual is precisely because the belief in monosexuality has been so devout and oppressive there for so long – on both sides of the gay/straight divide.
What better way to flip the older generation the bird than to declare an identity which by definition rejects their cherished sexual religion?
Men are five times more likely to describe themselves as ‘gay or lesbian’ than women: 10% of men compared to 2% of women. (In the US the figure is 5% for men and 4% for women.) When it came to ‘bisexual’ the numbers were evenly split at 2% for men and women alike.
7% of Conservative voters described themselves as ‘gay or lesbian’ compared to 4% of Labour voters – despite the fact that male homosexuality was decriminalised under a Labour government in the 1960s, and it was another Labour administration in the 90s & Noughties which did away with the remaining discriminatory laws – in the teeth of Conservative opposition. Rather than attribute this all to Cameron’s recent successful co-option of gay marriage, perhaps a better explanation for the fact there were nearly twice as many Conservative gays and lesbians as Labour is to be found in the data showing social class ABC1 were four times more likely to describe themselves as gay or lesbian (8%) than those in C2DE (2%). Class and income doesn’t just influence your voting, but also your declared sexuality. Though interestingly, the numbers for ‘bisexual’ were the same for Labour and Tory voters and both social classes – 2%.
Perhaps not entirely surprisingly, supporters of the centrist (and largely middle-class) Lib Dems were most likely to agree with the statement ‘sexuality is a scale – it is possible to be somewhere near the middle’, at 71%, compared to 47% of UKIP voters, who are much more likely to be C2DE (39% of UKIP voters believed there was no middle ground – you are either heterosexual or homosexual).
The great, throbbing Metropolis of London, as you might expect, had the highest number of self-described gays and lesbians: 8% compared to Scotland’s 3%. But wrong-footing stereotypes, ‘Midlands/Wales’ was only one point behind what is now surely the gay capital of the entire world, at 7%.
“The Magic Mike movies are, truth be told, a bit of a nostalgia trip. ‘Male stripping’ is actually rather retro. It emerged as a phenomenon in the now impossibly innocent-looking 90s when the Chippendales and their orange muscles framed by bow ties, white cuffs and permed hair drove women wild – and Channing Tatum himself was working as a stripper in Florida, before he became a Hollywood sex object.”
Yours musing on today’s stripped-down stuffed-crotch masculinity in The Telegraph.
Britain is getting bigger. Positively massive, if recent reports are to be believed.
Last week, the World Health Organisation published some hefty, earth-shaking figures which publically body-shamed the UK as having one of the highest obesity rates in Europe and suggesting that by 2030 a whopping 74 per cent of British men and 64 per cent of women will be overweight or obese.
Both sexes are getting fatter, according to the data, but men seem to be getting fatter faster than women. Which represents yet another reversal of traditional sex roles – until recently, women in the UK, like most women around the world, tended to be more likely than men to be clinically obese. Two decades ago, just 13pc of men, a mere sliver, were defined as obese, compared to 17pc of women.
By 2010, however, the last year for WHO figures, UK men had finally caught up with women – who had also been getting larger: 26pc of men and women were now considered clinically obese. But in the next 15 years men are predicted to overtake women in obesity, reaching rates of 36pc, compared to 33pc for women. Finally, men are ahead of women in something.
How did this come about? Particularly in a world in which men are more image- and body-conscious – and increasingly gym-obsessed – than ever before?
According toLaura Webber of the UK Health Forum which helped compile the figures, the continuing rise in obesity for both sexes was down to the “obesegenic environment’ which ‘encouraged the over-consumption of energy dense foods and discouraged physical activity”. Which I suppose means sitting around and eating crisps and drinking fizzy soda.
Of course, this in itself doesn’t explain why men are overtaking women in the over-eating department. But perhaps a clue is to be found in the fact that the phenomenon of male obesity and being overweight (defined as BMI -> 25 kg/ms) is closely associated with high-income countries, such as the UK, US and those of Western Europe – which tend also to have the highest rates of obesity for both sexes.
In low- and lower-middle-income countries – which of course make up the vast majority – obesity among women was approximately double that among men (and considerably lower overall).
Combine this with the fact that UK male obesity began to catch up with and overhaul female obesity in the last 20-30 years – when many working-class and manual jobs were being automated or ‘outsourced’ – a strongly suggestive picture emerges of male obesity being related to not just cheap, readily available, heavily advertised, highly-profitable high-calorie food, but also the decline of traditionally “masculine” jobs. Or to put it glibly: call centres replacing pits. Offices are, after all, “obesegenic environments”.
But why is male obesity now overtaking the female variety? How come men are apparently sitting around eating more ready-salted crisps than women? Perhaps because we still tend to have anachronistic ideas about “man sized” portions. In a world in which men were usually expected to put in a day’s physical, often back-breaking labour, this made a certain sense. But when so many jobs are now “unisex” and keyboard-based, and car ownership so widespread, those man-sized portions can just make you super-sized.
Since the 1980s “consumption” has, in most Western countries and the UK in particular, largely replaced “production” – so men are, in a sense, merely doing their duty in consuming more food and getting dangerously fat. Even the unemployed can contribute.
The calorie surplus begins early. Physical education at school today is, officially, often not terribly physical, or strenuous – and children are less likely to walk there than in the past. And then less likely to play in the street or garden when they’re home.
You can be sure that despite the advertising, high-calorie candy bars like Snickers are not usually being eaten after a game of footie. Makers of high-calorie food aimed at boys and men love to suggest that their “obesegenic” product is “man food” and masculinising – “Get some nuts!”. Or rather, that not eating their product is emasculating. If you don’t eat one, you’ll turn into Joan Collins. When the reality may be that because you’ve eaten too many Snickers you can’t run at all.
For all its calculated casualness, a lot of this kind of “man food” advertising merely highlights the way that men and boys now increasingly tend to have a “relationship” to food in the way that only women were supposed to have in the past.
The irony, or possibly tragedy, for men is that at a time when many of them are putting on weight so rapidly, the world has become very visual and has got very judgy about their appearance. Men are expected to have beach-ready bodies too. Part of the reason for a growing number of men’s increasing obsession with gym-ing and dieting is that in a post-industrial digital world, their body is not something that merely “happens” any more – men no longer merely “act”, they, like women, also have to “appear”. Going down the gym has replaced working in the factory – and also, in many cases, playing sport.
So we seem to be seeing an increasing polarisation between (often middle aged) “fatties” who have given up or don’t care, and (often younger) “fitties”, who are perhaps trying a bit too hard and care way too much – though I am not complaining about the eyepopping results.
Of course, quite a few men make the quasi-religious transition from being fatties to fitties – frequently sharing their “before” and “after” pics online, or in Men’s Health magazine.
Which brings us to a possible paradox. All those sweat-soaked gym sessions and protein drinks (a rapidly-growing market expected to reach £471m in the UK by 2018) may actually have contributed to those alarming WHO figures for male “obesity”.
Body Mass Index is a very blunt – flabby even – statistical instrument indeed. Calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in metres, this formula, devised in the 19th century, doesn’t actually “measure” fatness at all, merely indicates it.
Muscle is denser than fat, so if you are totally buff from all those gym sessions, then your BMI could class you as being “overweight” or even “obese” – despite being “totally shredded”. Fat, particularly abdominal/visceral fat, has a host of documented health problems associated with it – lean muscle, however, brings increased strength, higher metabolism, increased immunity and even life expectancy. Not to mention increased “sexiness”.
BMI is a statistical convention that has been useful in a generalised way – but one that may have to be changed to reflect the changing body composition and shape of men (and women). Without research, it’s impossible to know how much men getting “massive” down the gym has tipped the UK’s male obesity scales, but given how much more muscular many men are today compared to 20 or even just ten years ago, it seems likely to have been a factor.
If so, the coming fatso-pocalypse, serious as it is, may have been slightly over-egged.
‘Movember’ is upon us again, and so are the ironic and perhaps not so ironic upper lip pubes, reminding us of the very important, very worthy – and until recently very overlooked – issue of prostate cancer. A disease which affects 42,000 men in the UK each year, and kills 11,000.
But this is perhaps also a good time to remember that prostates don’t just get cancer – and they’re not just for November, or for producing an alkaline secretion which helps sustain ejaculated sperm in the vagina. They can also give a great deal of year-round pleasure. Mind blowing, leg-shaking, eye-rolling, neighbour-panicking pleasure.
While the very existence of the female G-spot remains a matter of hot debate, the male G-spot is mighty real. Situated just below a chap’s urinary bladder, wrapped around the urethra, the prostate is a walnut-sized button conveniently placed about a finger’s length from the anal opening – proof positive of ‘intelligent design’.
And more and more are being reached regularly – not just by medical practitioners looking for ‘enlargement’. The 21st century is shaping up to be the century of the prostate.
‘Reach’ it and you – and possibly your bedroom walls – will be left in no doubt as to its existence. As Seann Scott William discovered in the college comedy ‘Road Trip’ – released in 2000, around the time Movember was just getting bristly – when his arrogant frat-boy character ‘EL’ attempts to make a sperm donation, and is ‘helped out’ by a slightly sadistic, latex-gloved female nurse.
‘That was awesome!’ he says, dazed-amazed afterwards. And by the film’s end he’s instructing his girlfriend to ‘use three fingers’. Probably provoking many a young man’s interest in his own prostate.
2000 was certainly a busy year for that ticklish gland. In ‘Me, Myself & Irene’ another comedy released later the same year, Jim Carrey plays a split personality Jekyll and Hyde character – his obnoxious egoist half also turns out to enjoy anal insertion: this time in the form of an eye-wateringly XXL dildo during a night of passion with Renee Zellwegger.
Yes the male anality on display in these Millennium movies was largely at the expense of the males concerned, but because the men being prostatically pleasured were straight, both movies effectively told their audiences that in the new century men enjoying their rears being played with was not specifically ‘gay’. Just ridiculously intense.
Which seems to have been all the permission that straight men needed. A decade or so on from its Hollywood ‘outing’, that hitherto hidden gland definitely has no sexual orientation – and little or no shame. ‘I’m going to stick my whole thumb up your ass this evening’ says a newly-engaged women fairly randomly to her lucky boyfriend in the TV drama ‘Fargo’. [And a couple of months after this piece was published, the sit-com ‘Broad City’ featured an episode in which a man asks his female date to use a strap-on on him – after some initial uncertainty, she kindly obliges.]
‘Prostate massagers’ of all shapes and baffling sizes (vibrating and non-vibrating) fill the pages of on-line sex toy stores. Men’s mags such as Esquire and Men’s Health interrupt their guides to the mysteries of the female body to give advice on how to get your girlfriend to massage your prostate just right while giving you a blow job. Entire books are devoted to the subject, promising you ‘The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure’.
And a giant green butt plug was inflated in Paris last month – the city that in another epoch was famous for Mr Eiffel’s phallic Gallic tower.
Not wanting to be, ahem, behind the curve, Harvard University is now offering seminars on anal sex titled: ‘What’s What in the Butt: Anal Sex 101’, where you can learn ‘anal anatomy and the potential for pleasure for all genders!’
The back bottom is the new front bottom – as a peek at straight on-line porn will confirm. It’s possibly not without significance that the orifice that straight men seem most interested in women these days is one they share themselves. After all ‘anal sex’ is a highly reversible concept.
This was graphically and noisily demonstrated in the leaked vid of the pro footballer a few years back which appeared to show him being ‘scored’ by an ex female partner with a ‘strap on’. The tabs talked then of course about how ‘bizarre’ and ‘kinky’ his private past-time was – but as with William’s ‘Road Trip’, his loud enjoyment of it will have just made many football fans wonder what they’ve been missing by always playing up front instead of at the rear.
Certainly the possibility of male passivity is advertised everywhere you look now. After all spornosexuality, hard-core, body-centred, second generation metrosexuality, is as much about the lunge-sculpted ass as it is the tits and abs. Straight Essex boy Dan Osborne kindly offered the readers of gay mag Attitude his naked muscle butt recently in a generous double-page spread – with the strap line ‘Sex is fun. Be safe and enjoy it.’
Dan offers his bum (safely) to Attitude readers. ‘Enjoy!’
Posh boys are also at it. The male rowers of Warwick University have just released their latest nude charity calendar, aimed at women and gay men, and ‘fighting homophobia in sports’ – rammed with plenty of arse shots (because there’s no penis in their nude calendar, they’re all bottom). In these prostatic times the male derriere has been thoroughly sexualised. Mostly by the men attached to one. Or as one of the rowers puts it in their promotional video: ‘Regardless of gender or sexuality we are inviting you into that moment with us.’
Some stick-in-the-muds will of course harrumph that male anal play and passivity is ‘unnatural’ and ‘sodomitical’. To which I always reply: If God hadn’t intended men to try anal play he wouldn’t have given them prostate glands. Unless he just wanted to really mess with their heads.
And He – or naughty, naughty She – gave them to all men, whatever their sexual orientation and whatever their sexual hang-ups. Your prostate gland doesn’t care whether you’re straight, gay, bi or homophobic – just whether or not it’s loved.
But then, that quaint old homophobic rallying cry ‘Backs against the wall lads!’ was always a bit of a give-away. Ever so slightly hinting that if ‘the lads’ didn’t press their rears against something solid they wouldn’t be able to resist impaling themselves on the ‘poof’.
Yes, of course, despite some of the prostatic propaganda – including this article – not all men enjoy their prostates being massaged. Whether they are straight or gay. But the outing of the prostate gland as a potential organ of (passive) male pleasure – of male versatility – regardless of sexuality frees gay and bisexual men from the very heavy burden of representing all male anal pleasure. And straight men from having to be full-time ‘studs’.
So next time you see a Village People moustache in November, remember that the prostate is a gland men should be proud of. And in touch with. One way or another.
David is very keen to discuss footie scores with you.
In Europe and on the West Coast topless bathing for men has long been no novelty on public as well as private beaches. But in the more inhibited East a male costume consisting solely of trunks was, until just recently, cause for arrest on almost all public beaches and raised eyebrows on many a private one.
At Atlantic City topless bathing suits are still forbidden, and only this year has Long Island’s ultrademocratic Long Beach allowed men to air their backs and chests. This trend which originated on the French Riviera has seriously distressed manufacturers who claim there is little field for originality of design in trunks. For proof of their contention, see Long Beach pictures below.
On the one hand it seems laughable that the male breast should have been regarded as so inflammatory of lust to the good burghers of East Coast America. But then again, given the flagrant rise of provocative, pec-tastic spornosexuality on our 21st Century beaches, maybe those clenched American WASPS were right.
At any rate, those trunks certainly aren’t being worn ‘high’ any more. That would be a terrible waste of obliques.
Hugo Cornellier took a selfie a day from the age of seven until he was nineteen and then turned it into a selfie-movie. And in the process turned himself into a YouTube celebrity.
There’s something quite haunting about it, not just in the stop-motion documentary of a boy’s transition into manhood in a self-regarding, accelerated age – and the way he can’t make up his mind whether or not a beard really suits him – but also the way that a selfie-movie turns everyone else in your life into a blur, the only constant being your eyes gazing into the lens. Or is it the abyss?
Oh, and the other constant being the swivelly IKEA computer chair everyone has these days.
It reminds me of the wonderful 1960 movie version of HG Wells’ The Time Machine, starring Rod Taylor, the original Jon Hamm, in an Edwardian swivelly chair that travels through time. As his horrified friend with the comedy ‘Scotch’ accent warns him:
“If that machine can do what you say it can, destroy it George before it destroys YOU!”
But of course, as Mr Corneillier’s selfie time machine demonstrates, it’s already far, far too late for us to save ourselves. From ourselves.
I’m really looking forwards to this doc La Bare, about a male stripper club in Dallas, released later this month. This single clip is more sensual than anything in Magic Mike. Except the bit where he goes to take a piss after a hard night’s partying. And that’s just accidental buttock roll.
I have no idea how to body roll, and I suspect it would be medically inadvisable at my age – let alone aesthetically – but it certainly looks quite something when muscular men do it, as opposed to the teen girls on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.
These ‘jokey’ Veet ‘Don’t risk dudeness’ ads in which a ‘sexy lady’ turns into an ‘unsexy dude’ because she hasn’t used the smelly depilatory cream have provoked an e-flurry of outrage for their sexism and shaming of women who aren’t always smooth, so much so that Veet had to issue an apology and withdraw them.
But what’s truly ‘funny’ about these ads is that in some ways they strike me as actually being the advertising world’s version of those ‘gender flip’ click-bait posts that many of the people lambasting the Veet ads profess to love. You know, the ones that pretend that men are never objectified – despite male (self) objectification being hard to miss these days unless you’re trying really, really hard not to notice flagrant, flaming evidence like this. And this.
Instead of looking around us, we’re supposed to listen to blather like this:
“For some reason, as soon as you put a man in there … it’s an entirely different thing that we aren’t used to seeing.”
Only if you’ve been jamming your eyes shut for the last twenty years, dear.
So, having pretended that male objectification doesn’t exist, it’s now ‘really radical’ and ‘challenging’ to ‘flip’ the roles. But in an ironic and unconvincing way, usually making sure that the men adopting the faux ‘sexualised’ poses are unattractive. (And not wetting their vests.)
The ‘anti-sexism’ of many of those ‘gender flip’ memes strikes me as completely bogus, implicitly depending as it does on the entirely (hetero)sexist presumption that sexiness is a female quality/property. The ‘ludicrousness’ of the man adopting ‘sexy’ poses requires a worldview that insists men just aren’t meant to be objectified. That simply doesn’t see male objectification because it’s not suppose to happen.
So the ‘gender flip’ actually tends to reinforce the very thing it hypocritically pretends to undermine.
Worse, people pretend, over and over again, to be impressed by daggy male hipsters pretending to do sexy while pretending to subvert sexism – as a way of getting attention. Which is the only really sincere part of the whole charade.
Instead of ditching the dreary fucking irony and just doing this. Or this.
By contrast, these crass Veet ads are at least refreshingly honest and out of the closet in their horrendous heterosexist revulsion at ‘dudeness’, and the ludicrousness of male sexiness. And of course the thing that is always hovering behind that revulsion, particularly in the US: that dudes might get it on with other dudes.
In stubbly fact, this obsession ends up swallowing their whole campaign, no gag reflex, to the point where it has little or nothing to do with women at all – despite them being the target market.
The second generation of metrosexuals are cumming. And this time it’s hardcore
by Mark Simpson
What is it about male hipsters and their strange, pallid, highly ambivalent fascination with bodies beefier and sexier than their own? Which means, of course, pretty much everyone?
You may remember last year that last year the Guardian columnist and TV presenter Charlton Brooker had a very messy bowel-evacuating panic attack over the self-sexualisation of the male body exhibited in reality show Geordie Shore.
At least the Vice writer isn’t in total denial. Brooker was so threatened by the brazen male hussies on Geordie Shore and the confusion their pumped, shaved ‘sex doll’ bodies, plucked eyebrows and penises the size of a Sky remote provoked in him that the poor love had to pretend that they didn’t exist outside of reality TV. That they were some kind of science fiction invented to torment and bewilder him and his nerdy body. Perhaps because he’s rather younger than Brooker, Mr Vice on the other hand has actually noticed that these guys really do exist and are in fact pretty much everywhere today, dipped in fake tan and designer tatts and ‘wearing’ plunging ‘heavage’ condom-tight T-s.
In a media world which largely ignores what’s happened to young men Mr Vice is to be commended that he’s clearly spent a great deal of time studying them. Albeit with a mixture of envy and desire, fear and loathing – and a large side order of self-contradiction and sexual confusion.
He laments that these ‘pumped, primed, terrifyingly sexualised high-street gigolos’ have been imported from America, but uses the execrable imported Americanism ‘douchebag’ to describe them – over and over again. What’s a douchebag? Someone with bigger arms than you, who’s getting more sex than you – and probably earning more than you, despite being considerably less expensively educated than you.
But by far the most infuriating thing about ‘sad young douchebags’ is that they are so very obviously not sad at all. They and their shameless, slutty bodies are having a whale of a time, thank you very much. They’re far too happy being ‘sad young douchebags’ to sit down and write lengthy, angry rationalising essays about why someone else’s idea of a good time is WRONG. Or read one. Or read anything, in fact. Apart maybe from Men’s Health.
A strong smell of nostalgia emanates from this Vice jeremiad, like a pickled onion burp. The writer laments a lost Eden of masculine certainties and whinges that these young men with their sexualised ‘gym bunny wanker’ bodies have replaced older, more ‘authentic’ English masculine archetypes, ‘the charmer’, ‘the bit of rough’, ‘the sullen thinker’ (which, I wonder, applies to him?) and that as a result:
Nobody wants to be Sean Connery any more. With their buff, waxed bodies and stupid haircuts, the modern British douchebag looks more like a model from an Attitude chatline ad than a potential Bond.
Ah yes, Sean Connery – the former Mr Scotland gym bunny wanker ex chorus boy who wore a wig and fake tan in those glossy, slutty Bond films. Masculinity is never what it used to be. Even back in Ancient Greece everyone was whining that real men went out of fashion with the Trojan War. And what’s so wrong with wanting to look like an Attitude chat line ad, rather than a hired killer?
Oh, that’s right – coz it looks gay.
All this moaning, along with the writer’s complaints that these buff young men are disappointingly ‘soft’, crap in a fight and don’t have nearly enough scars, reminds me of those gays on Grindr who stipulate in their profile ‘I like my men to be MEN!!’. Or the camp queens who over the years who have solemnly informed me: ‘If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s camp queens!!’ Actually, it reminds me of myself when I was much more hopelessly romantic than I am today, and before I realised real men were really slutty.
There is nothing gayer than the longing for masculine certainties like this. Especially since they never really existed anyway. It’s like believing that the phallus is the real thing and the penis is just a symbol. It’s Quentin Crisp’s Great Dark Man syndrome, but sans the self-awareness, or the archness and the henna.
In fact Mr Vice is so nostalgic – and so young – that he seems to think metrosexuality is something prior to, distinct from and more tasteful than these sexed-up shamelessly slutty male bodies that insist on grabbing his attention, wistfully contrasting how the ‘natural confidence’ of metrosexuality ‘has been replaced by something far more flagrant’. Take it from metrodaddy, today’s flagrantly sexualised male body is merely more metrosexuality. More sexy, more tarty, more porny, more slapped in your face. So stop bitching and suck on it. Metrosexuality has gone hard-core -the ‘sexuality’ part has gone ‘hyper’.
The metrosexual was born twenty years ago and had to struggle to survive in an untucked ‘no-homo’ 1990s – but the second wave take the revolution he brought about in masculine aesthetics for granted. Steeped in images of male desirability from birth and masturbating furiously to hard-core online porn from puberty, they have totally sexed-up the male body and turbo-charged the male desire to be desired, which was always at the heart of metrosexuality rather than expensive fashion spreads and fastidious lists of ‘dos and don’ts’. Their own bodies rather than clobber and cosmetics have become the ultimate accessory, fashioning them at the gym into a hot commodity. Nakedly metrosexy.
If we need to give this new generation of hyper metrosexuals a name – other than total tarts – we should perhaps dub them spornosexuals. These mostly straight-identified young men are happy to advertise, like an Attitude chat line, their love of the pornolised, sporting-spurting male body – particularly their own. Along with their very generous availability to anyone’s gaze-graze. Especially at premium rates.
And everyone is calling their number. Though admittedly not many do it via the extremely kinky route of writing long essays denouncing them and explaining why they’re TOTALLY NOT INTERESTED. Hipsters, who of course think themselves above the vulgarity of sexiness, are simply the ironic, anti-sexual wing of metrosexuality – which is to say, absolutely fucking pointless.
It’s the obvious, if often oblivious, visual bi-curiosity of today’s totally tarty, hyper metrosexuality that alarms people even more than its ‘vulgarity’. Male bisexuality is still largely a taboo precisely because it threatens the final, fond, sacred, and highly phallic myth of masculinity: that it has an (heteronormative) ‘aim’ and ‘purpose’. The scattershot sluttiness of spornosexuals signals a very sticky end to that virile delusion.
Mr Vice argues repeatedly that these young men enjoying their bodies and their lack of inhibition compared to their fathers and grandfathers, are having a ‘crisis of masculinity’. This just smacks of more middle class resentment dressed up as ‘concern’ – a pissy, passive aggressive way of calling them ‘sad douchebags’ again. Or ‘gay’. When people talk about a ‘crisis of masculinity’ they’re usually talking about their own – in dealing with the fact that masculinity isn’t what they want it to be. And particularly when working class chaps aren’t what middle class chaps want them to be.
It’s true that our post-industrial landscape often doesn’t know what to do with the male body apart from shag it or sell it, but that’s not necessarily such a terrible contrast with the ‘glorious’ past. For a younger generation of young men no longer afraid of their own bodies there’s no crisis – but rather a liberation. From the dehumanising, sexist constraints of their forefathers. Men’s bodies are no longer simply instrumental things – for fighting wars, extracting coal, building ships, scoring goals, making babies and putting the rubbish out that must renounce pleasure, vanity, sensuality and a really good fingering and leave that to women and pooves.
Instead the male body has been radically redesigned, with the help of some blueprints from Tom of Finland, as a sensual sex toy designed to give and particularly to receive pleasure. Maybe it’s not terribly heroic, and admittedly some of the tatts are really grotty, but there are much worse things to be. Such as a slut-shaming writer for a hipster magazine.
Of course, I would say that. Because I find these spornosexual, totally tarty young men fuckable. But that’s kind of the point. They desperately want to be found fuckable. It would be extremely rude and ungrateful not to find them fuckable when they have gone to so much trouble doing all those bubble-butt building barbell lunges at the gym for me.
And in fuckable fact, it’s their fuckability which makes the unfuckables hate them so fucking much.
‘There was something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world. No wonder Basil Hallward worshipped him.’
This classic Gay Liberation poster from 1975 by Alan Wakeman mocking mid-century heterosexist platitudes remains very funny indeed. It’s also still perhaps the best response to those – straight and gay – still seeking to find the ’cause’ of homosexuality.
Though obviously the ‘Cultural Deprivation’ balloon at the bottom is no longer true:
‘Heterosexual men… think themselves “ugly”, beauty being ascribed only to women. Many psychic disorders stem from this self-rejection.’
Three decades on, male heterosexuality has been pretty much phased out and replaced by metrosexuality – spectacularly abolishing the sexual division of looking and loveliness. Men nowadays clearly think themselves irresistible, thank you very much.
In fact, if it was drawn today this chart would be titled: ‘What Exactly Was Heterosexuality?’
The revolutionary, universal promise of Gay Liberation has been realised – at least in the bathroom and bedroom. By non-gay men as much if not more than gay ones.
Banning gay propaganda can backfire. Spectacularly.
“All Saints should be presumed guilty until proved innocent.”
The book that changed the way the world looks at men
It's a Queer World
A warped look at a fin de siecle world of pop culture where nothing is quite as straight or gay as it seems.
This book will change the way you think about sex. It may even put you off it altogether.
Male Lib is Nothing to Be Scared Of
Notes on Hipsterism
While everyone else in the 80s wanted to look like they’d walked off the set of Blade Runner or Top Gun, Peter York looked and sounded like he’d stepped out of Dangerous Liaisons. […]
Sixth Form Boys Will Hug Boys
Why masculinity isn't 'in crisis'.
Invasion of the Driverless Cars
Mark Simpson on the headless horsemen of the coming ‘carpocalypse’
Pride & Prejudice
I think the time has come to share a secret about my past I’ve kept hidden for far too long.…
‘Love Island’ – ITV’s Primetime Spornotopia
Mark Simpson undresses the gayest straight dating show on telly
Cristiano Ronaldo’s talent & prettiness are intolerable.
Hairdresser Cars on Fire
Feeling envious or threatened by someone else’s motor? Unable to afford it? Resentful of the pleasure and joy it clearly brings them? Allergic to bold style, design, and nice colours? Never fear! […]
Get Hur! How Gay Subtexts Became Ancient History
We don’t really do subtexts in the see-through, digital 21st Century. Sextexts, definitely. Subtweets, possibly. Subtexts, not so much. Who has the time? Who can even be bothered with having a subconscious? Subtexts are so analogue. […]
Inside Spornosexual Pride
Mark Simpson goes to BodyPower, the UK’s biggest fitness expo, & tries not to stare too hard. Even though staring is…
Stripping Down the Male Body
Disability charity Scope have been airing a cheeky ad this summer designed to encourage people to donate clothes. It’s a…
Union Street Blues: Plymouth’s Last ‘Run Ashore’?
Mark Simpson goes in search of a drunken sailor in Devon's historic, salty Naval port. […]
1983: The Last Summer of Synth-Pop
From the gender-bending antics of Eurythmics and Culture Club to the propulsive synthpop of Depeche Mode, New Order, and the…
I’d F*ck Me: Mirror Man-Love
Top Gun Turns Thirty – How Did It Get So Gay?
Mark Simpson on the (self) sexualisation of today’s male body & why straight young men crave gay adulation
How young men fell out of love with the motor car
Captain Kirk’s Bulging Trousers
The pointed queerness of the original Shatner/Nimoy Star Trek series – & the PC limpness of all the spin-offs.…
From Metrosexual to Spornosexual – Two Decades of Male Deliciousness
‘Metrodaddy’ Mark Simpson on the evolution of male vanity
The Rise & Fall of Monosexuality
Ten Iconic Car Ads
Ten unforgettable car ads that transcended both cars and advertising and came to symbolise an age
You & Your iPhone: The Perfect Relationship?
Imagine the perfect relationship. Imagine a relationship so perfect that it will be the only one you need. Or have.
The Swishy Villainy & Psychodrama of Skyfall
Mark Simpson fondles the pecs and thighs of James Bond’s latest ‘outing’
Quentin Crisp & Hurtian Crisp
The Naked Civil Servant is the best and funniest TV drama ever made. And I’m sorry, but it’s a scientific fact.
How The Prostate Came Out of the Closet
Pietro Boselli – Spornosexual Philosopher
Mark Simpson sits at the feet of ‘The Bona of Verona’
Keyless Entry & Male Versatility
“I call him lollipop” The sexualisation of the male body probes new, perfectly-rounded depths
‘Bare Thrills’ Strips Masculinity Down To Its Skidmarks
Maybe I suffer from what Freud described as man’s tendency to devalue what he desires, but I find anything touched by TV…
The crusade against ‘fapping’ is eerily reminiscent of the anti-masturbation movements of the 19th century says Mark Simpson (Originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph 29 April, 2016) Those annoying porn ‘pop-ups’ are impossible to avoid these days. Especially when browsing serious newspapers. PORN HORROR! headlines zoom repeatedly into our sightlines, warning us that pornography is ‘addictive’ (despite an inconvenient lack of evidence), ‘ruins relationships’ and ‘rewires men’s brains’, turning them into sex zombie automatons. Whether or not it’s addictive for people who watch it, porn […]