‘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.
announced the headline in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, the UK’s last daily broadsheet. A headline which has, unsurprisingly, helped to make it the second most popular story on their website. A headline which provokes a number of intriguing questions. Questions such as: Men brought up with women are less sexy than… what? Men brought up with wolves? Or, men who attended Eton?
The Daily Telegraph’s Science Correspondent helpfully elaborates:
‘Having a large number of female siblings makes men no less heterosexual but their mannerisms and body language may be seen as less butch than those who have been brought up amid the rough and tumble of a male dominated household.’
‘Researchers discovered the ratio of male and females within a family growing up together can influence the sexual behaviour, rather than the sexuality, of a boy who is outnumbered.’
Now, I’ll resist the temptation to say something about that image of a man being ‘outnumbered’ by women for the moment. Because the most important thing to note here is that it isn’t until the fourth paragraph in this news item about ‘how men brought up with women are less sexy’ that we discover the psychobiologists aren’t talking about men and women.
They’re talking about rats. They did some experiments on rodents. The ‘men and women’ and ‘boys and girls’ the Telegraph article has told us about so categorically are male and female vermin. The ‘households’ are rat litters. The ‘butchness’ and ‘rough and tumble’ discussed is ratty. The ‘heterosexuality’ discussed is rat rutting.
‘Male rats were taken from their mothers and redistributed in litters in which there was either more female pups or more male pups, or equally mixed.’
‘When it came to mating, the male rats brought up in a litter of mainly sisters, spent less time mating than those brought up among male rats or in an equally divided litter.’
In other words, even if we re-wrote the Telegraph headline to, say ‘Male rats brought up with female rats are less sexy’it would still be inaccurate. The headline should probably read: ‘Male rats brought up with more females than males get less sex.’ Though this would give the sub-editor a heart-attack. Worse, it would mean that the piece had no chance of getting into the Telegraph’s ‘Most Read’ chart.
Apparently the number of mountings were lower, in part because:
‘…they were not being invited to do so by the females who signal their availability by wiggling their ears or ‘dart hopping’ – an established rodent come on!’
Which is nice. But it’s only right at the end of this news story about how men brought up with women are less sexy that you get this statement from one of the psychobiologists in question, actually talking about humans – rather than, you know, rats:
‘And what applies to rats may have implications for humans too, he added.’
Hang on. What’s this wussy, pussy-footing MAY have IMPLICATIONS? Was he brought up in a litter where he was outnumbered by women or something? We already know exactly what it means for humans because the Daily Telegraph told us in the headline and the first three paragraphs. But the psychobiologist just can’t grow a pair. Instead he offers us this woolly, hopelessly girly statement:
“It tells you that families are important – how many brothers and sisters you have, and the interaction among those individuals.” Families are particularly important in shaping personalities, he says. The environment where you were raised “doesn’t determine personality, but it helps to shape it.”
Now this isn’t exactly earth-shattering. But even this statement is based here on unsubstantiated and somewhat dubious extrapolation from rat behaviour to humans. Rats, for example, have litters of about ten pups that take five weeks to reach sexual maturity, while humans tend to only drop one at a time which take fourteen years or more to develop. And female humans are generally less likely to wiggle their ears when they feel flirty.
But the general conclusion here would probably be that environment, even in the case of rats, whose behaviour was thought to be decided by genes and pre-natal endocrinology, is more important than was thought.
Mind you, The Daily Telegraph’s wildly anthropomorphizing reporting is a model of objectivity and accuracy compared to Time Magazine, which seems to lose its mind over the same story, giving it this bizarre title:
‘Why You’re Gay: A New Study Shows Why Boy Rats Like Other Boy Rats’
Er, no it doesn’t. (And nor does it talk about ‘boy-rats’, whatever they are.) But there’s no stopping Time:
‘Here’s the news: boy rats who have more sisters are less reliable heterosexuals than boy rats who have fewer sisters. That’s not to say having a sister makes you gay, but the boy rats with lots of sisters were significantly less interested than other boy rats in mounting girl rats.’
‘…less reliable heterosexuals’. Whatever that phrase means, it isn’t in the abstract or the press release. Nor is there any discussion of male rats mounting one another. It seems that the reasoning here is that if a male rat mounts female rats less often than other male rats then he must be, y’know, gay. Which is an interesting insight into notions of compulsory heterosexuality at Time, but not so much into the sex lives of rats.
In fact, and this is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the study – which neither the Daily Telegraph nor Time reported – the male rats raised in ‘female dominant’ litters turned out to have just as many insertions and ejaculations with females as the other males. As the abstract tells us:
…the number of intromissions and ejaculations did not differ across groups, which suggests that males from female-biased litters mate as efficiently as males raised in other sex ratios, but do not require as many mounts to do so.
In other words, if you really want to anthropomorphize, the headline should read:
‘Men brought up with women better at getting it in’
But these wacky scientific fairy tales in Time and The Daily Telegraph are not completely without merit. Both are really excellent examples of why you should treat any ‘sexy’ report about the ‘discoveries’ of psychobiology in regard to human behaviour very, very sceptically indeed, always bearing in mind that:
a) They’re probably talking about rats
b) You need to multiply the dubiousness of extrapolating rat research to human behaviour by the increasing need of scientific research to get publicity these days – and then again by the rampant projections of the media itself and its need to make an already souped-up story ‘interesting’ and ‘familiar’ to their readers.
by Mark Simpson (A shorter version originally appeared on Guardian CIF November 2, 2008)
“It’s better to marry than burn with passion,” declared St Paul. But now marriage itself seems to have become a burning issue – or at least, gay marriage.
The re-banning of gay marriage in California earlier this month with the passage of Proposition 8 has been presented by gay marriage advocates as a vicious body-blow for gay rights. Angry gay people and their allies have protested across the US, some reportedly even rioting. The timely release of the Gus Van Sant movie Milk, about the murder in 1977 of Harvey Milk, the US’s first out elected official, has fuelled the sense of gay outrage and defiance. Surely only a hateful bigot like the one that gunned down Harvey would be opposed to gay marriage?
Gay marriage is the touchstone of gay equality, apparently. Settling for anything less is a form of Jim Crow style gay segregation and second-class citizenship.
But not all gays agree. This one for instance sees gay marriage not so much as a touchstone as a fetish. A largely symbolic and emotional issue that in the US threatens to undermine real, non-symbolic same-sex couple protection: civil unions bestow in effect the same legal status as marriage in several US states – including California. As a result of the religious right’s mobilisation against gay marriage, civil unions have been rolled back in several US states.
Perhaps the lesson of Proposition 8 is not that most straight people think gay people should sit at the back of the bus, but that if you take on religion and tradition on its hallowed turf – and that is what marriage effectively is – you’re highly likely to lose. Even in liberal California.
Maybe I shouldn’t carp, living as I do in the UK, where civil partnerships with equal legal status to marriage have been nationally recognised since 2004. But part of the reason that civil partnerships were successfully introduced here was because they are civil partnerships not “marriages” (the UK is a much more secular country than the US, and somewhat more gay-friendly too – but even here gay marriage would almost certainly not have passed).
At this point I’d like to hide behind the, erm, formidable figure of Sir Elton John, who also expressed doubts recently about the fixation of US gay campaigners on the word ‘marriage’, and declared he was happy to be in a civil partnership with the Canadian David Furnish and did not want to get married. Needless to say, Mr John wasn’t exactly thanked for speaking his mind by gay marriage advocates.
But amidst all the gay gnashing of teeth about the inequality of Proposition 8 it’s worth asking: when did marriage have anything to do with equality? Respectability, certainly. Normality, possibly. Stability, hopefully. Very hopefully. But equality?
First of all, there’s something gay people and their friends need to admit to the world: gay and straight long-term relationships are generally not the same. How many heterosexual marriages are open, for example? In my experience, many if not most long term male-male relationships are very open indeed. Similarly, sex is not quite so likely to be turned into reproduction when your genitals are the same shape. Yes, some gay couples may want to have children, by adoption or other means, and that’s fine and dandy of course, but children are not a consequence of gay conjugation. Which has always been part of the appeal for some.
More fundamentally who is the “man” and who is the “wife” in a gay marriage? Unlike cross-sex couples, same-sex partnerships are partnerships between nominal equals without any biologically, divinely or even culturally determined reproductive/domestic roles. Who is to be “given away”? Or as Elton John, put it: “I don’t wanna be anyone’s wife”.
It’s increasingly unclear even to heterosexuals who is the “man” and who is the “wife”, who should cleave to the other’s will and who should bring home the bacon. That’s why so many today introduce their husband or wife as “my partner”. The famous exception to this of course was Guy Ritchie and his missus, Madonna – and look what happened to them. Pre-nuptial agreements, very popular with celebs (though not, apparently, with Guy and Madonna), represent the very realistic step of divorcing before you get married – like plastic surgery, this is a hard-faced celeb habit that’s going mainstream.
If Christians and traditionalists want to preserve the “sanctity” of marriage as something between a man and a woman, with all the mumbo jumbo that entails, let them. They only hasten the collapse of marriage. Instead of demanding gay marriage, in effect trying to modernise an increasingly moribund institution, maybe lesbian and gay people should push for civil partnerships to be opened to everyone, as they are in France – where they have proved very popular.
I suspect civil partnerships, new, secular, literally down-to-earth contracts between two equals, relatively free of the baggage of tradition, ritual and unrealistic expectations, would also prove very popular with cross-sex couples in the Anglo world at a time when the institution of marriage is the most unpopular it’s ever been among people who aren’t actually gay. Yes, cross-sex couples can have civil marriage ceremonies, but they’re still marriages, not partnerships. If made open to everyone, civil partnerships might eventually not just be an alternative to marriage. Marriage might end up being something left to Mormons.
Perhaps my scepticism about gay marriage and marriage in general is down to the fact that I’m terminally single. Perhaps it’s all just sour grapes. Or maybe I prefer to burn with passion than marry. After all, St Paul’s violently ascetic world-view which regarded marriage as a poor runner-up to chastity, also ensured that the Christian Church would burn sodomites like kindling for centuries.
Either way, I think it needs to be mentioned amidst all this shouting about gay domesticity that, important as it is to see lesbian and gay couples recognised and given legal protection, probably most gay men (though probably not most lesbians) are single and probably will be single for most of their lives. With or without civil partnerships/unions.
Or even the magical, symbolic power of gay marriage.
Achilles, Alexander, Jason, Odysseus – the fabulous scrapping, rutting warriors of the Ancient World fulfil every boy’s own fantasy. Now, says Mark Simpson, Oliver Stone’s spayed movie ‘Alexander’ and the recent crop of ‘epics’ confirms that Hollywood has abolished heroes – past and present.
(Originally appeared Independent on Sunday, 19 December 2004)
For some, the entry “Double Classics” in their school timetable might have been an ominous omen. For me and my classmates however it meant 80 minutes of bliss listening to a wonderful old gent called Mr Field recount, and frequently re-enact with his walking-stick, fantastic stories of male derring-do from the Ancient World. Spellbound and wide-eyed we listened to the adventures of Jason and the Argonauts, Achilles and Odysseus. So great was the pull of the past in the mouth of Mr Field that hardly anyone fidgeted or played with their chunky 1970s LED digital watches.
Of all the epic tales recounted it was that of Alexander the Great that most gripped my pubescent imagination. The story of a scrappy, muscular little blond boy from the provincial Greek state of Macedonia who took on the world and won, carving out an unprecedented empire that stretched from the Adriatic to India. The story of a boy who never quite grew up; who quite probably assassinated his father; who certainly surpassed his extraordinary achievements, establishing himself as the greatest cavalry captain who ever lived, whose tactics are still studied today. A boy who never really cared for any woman except his terrifying mother Olympias (so terrifying that once he left home, Alexander never returned); whose great and constant loves were Bucephalus, his legendary war-horse, and Hephaestion, his legendary comrade in beefy arms. What boy wouldn’t love Alexander? What boy wouldn’t want to be Alexander?
The story of Alexander the Great (356BC -323BC) is the best boy’s own story ever told -the Trojan Wars may never have happened: hence the posters for Oliver Stone’s new movie Alexander announce: “The Greatest Legend Of All Was Real”. Alexander’s is a tale of passion, adventure, really big fisticuffs, masculine camaraderie, and running away from girls. And also, drunkenness, debauchery, mass murder and madness. His 12-year tour of the known (and unknown) world, and his long list of battle honours – Thebes, Heliocarnassus, Issus, Gaugamela, Tyre, Hydaspes, to name but a few – represent dates on the greatest rock ‘n’ roll tour in history.
Alexander is the timeless, ageless hero of boyish psychosis – a romantic disease which affects all men, though admittedly some more than others (well, I was at boarding school). Boys brim with enough energy to change the world, or destroy it – it makes no difference to them. This dangerous, sexy, passionate indifference is the basis of the mixture of fear and envy that causes adults generally to treat them so badly.
Alexander’s ambition was literally global, shaping the Ancient World; his Eastern crusades ended the ancient dynasties of Persia and Egypt. Alexander effectively invented the Western idea of Empire, globalisation and stamped his face on our idea of fame and success. He wanted nothing less than the whole world to be Alexander. For a while he came shockingly close to achieving just that, boldly going where no man had gone before (another boyhood hero of mine, William Shatner, played Alexander in a TV series before landing the role of Captain James Tiberius Kirk – which he played of course, in his wonderfully limited way as Alexander again). In part, his success was due to the way he succeeded in portraying his own ambition and self-interest as being for the benefit of Macedonia, pan-Hellenism or humanity itself.
In this Alexander could be seen as the ancient template for a neo-con America; he even invaded and conquered what is today Iraq and Afghanistan – as well as Iran. But like the neo-cons he could conquer but he couldn’t or wouldn’t administrate: rebellions broke out frequently and his Empire dissolved immediately after his death; Alexander, like contemporary audiences, had a short attention span. Certainly Stone’s epic new biopic could be subtitled: “Operation Persian Freedom”: his Alexander mouths platitudes about liberating Asia; the turbaned, bearded King Darius looks oddly like Bin Laden and, after his decisive defeat at Gaugamela, he is hunted down by Alexander in the mountains.
Obviously this, in addition to the rediscovered fashionability of sword-and-sandal epics (Gladiator, Troy, King Arthur, The Last Samurai), is why Hollywood has rediscovered this chippy little man and remembered his story as the ultimate road move, the classic story of boundless boyish all-American ambition, lighting out for the territory. In addition to Oliver Stone’s effort, Baz Luhrmann is rumoured to be developing his own version, with Leonardo Di Caprio in the title role. Even The World’s Only True Catholic, Mel Gibson, is planning to make a 10 episode HBO TV series about this pagan arse-bandit who whipped the world’s butt. Suddenly, Alexander really does appear to be conquering the world again.
There is another reason why the epics are back though: they offer reassuring, if utterly fraudulent, nostrums about masculinity in an uncertain, metrosexual world. The Ancient World was a time when men were men (and boys were nervous). In fact, warrior chic has been the fashion statement of 2004. This is the same year, after all, that a US presidential election was fought largely on the basis of who would make the best warrior president – and won largely on the grounds of who saluted best on camera and looked most fetching in 1960s uniform.
And likewise, what Hollywood is really offering us in these modern epics is not hairy retrosexuality but just more metrosexual pleasures, this time in a rather gorgeous, ancient setting; models playing at being rough boys – metrowarriors. In The Last Samurai, the Tom finally grows facial hair, and renounces the unmanly military machinery of modernity for the harsh-but-tender camaraderie of Samurai life – but only to make him more glamorous; Mr Cruise’s Western otherness actually makes him the female lead of the movie. In Troy pretty boys Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom are the real beauty pageant entrants and Diane Kruger (Helen) – and the audience – sit in judgement. The fields of Ilium become not a backdrop for the glorious feats of ancient warriors, but an expensive pretext for ogling Brad Pitt’s body, and also a half-hearted attempt to make it look practical, purposeful: when in fact his flawless, untested physique is the very definition of look-don’t-touch. In Alexander Irish boy-band actor Colin Farrell, with bottle-blond hair and eyeliner, stands in for charisma and passion.
The main reason for the return to the epics is this: Hollywood is emasculating the past. It isn’t raiding it, but paving it over. Telling us there never were any heroes. What other explanation could there be for foisting Pitt as Achilles and Farrell as Alexander on us in the space of a year? These stars who have risen without a trace are stars because of their bland insubstantiality not despite it. We live in a crowded world which is offended by talent, terrified by genius. The Irish pipsqueak Colin Farrell was destined to become King of the Knowing World, aka Hollywood, because he is so inoffensive. He’s the anti-Alexander. Like Robbie Williams doing an album of Frank Sinatra songs, Farrell as Alexander, or Pitt as Achilles, serves to reassure a generation that might have some dim, uneasy ancestral memory of a time before the mediatisation of everything – relax! – there were no great men and there was no era of greatness. There are just different styles, man. Masculinity is a game of dressy-uppy. Like the CGI armies of modern epics, and the digital wars of Pentagon planners, contemporary masculinity is simulation and number-crunching technology. Shock and Awe without the draft.
Hence Farrell’s Alexander isn’t haunted, or driven, paranoid, or threatening, terrifying or charismatic: his eyes are just too close together. When wearing his giant war helmet in the battle scenes his beady little eyes look blinking out like Marvin the Martian. He is utterly lost in Stone’s movie. Farrell’s face is as blank and thoughtless as the world that has made him a “star”. It’s difficult to believe that anyone would follow him to the corner shop let alone the edge of the world.
Just as I and countless other generations of boys before me worshipped Alexander, Alexander hero-worshipped Achilles. It is said he kept two items under his pillow at all times: a dagger and a copy of the Iliad. He yearned to emulate flame-capped Achilles’ achievements; in fact he far surpassed them (Farrell, by contrast, turns in a performance below even that of Pitt’s Achilles). He was terrified that his father would leave nothing left for him to achieve, and is one of the reasons why he is suspected of a hand in his assassination. Alexander wanted fame – but he wanted it for his worldly achievements not his profile. There was another reason why Alexander was fascinated by Achilles: he was interested in the story of his warrior-lover Patroclus (Homer doesn’t actually say they were lovers, but by the time of Alexander they were widely regarded as such). Patroclus was a year older than Achilles, just as Hephaestion was a year older than Alexander; Alexander must have worried that the world might think him Hephaestion’s boy.
At Ilium, Alexander and Hephaestion laid wreaths on Achilles’ tomb, stripped naked, anointed themselves with oil and ran races around the grave. Strangely, this scene didn’t make Oliver Stone’s movie. We do however hear Aristotle lecture the young Alexander on how Achilles and Patroclus were lovers and how such a friendship between men “produces virtue” and is “the basis of the city state”. But this dry history lesson on Greek patriarchy isn’t quite what the teasing tagline “Alexander was conquered only once: by Hephaestion’s thighs” might lead you to expect. In fact, we never really see Hephaestion’s thighs let alone Alexander between them. Stone hints heavily they were lovers, and uses Alexander’s life-long devotion to Hephaestion – Alexander was besides himself with grief when Hephaestion died and lay on his corpse for a day and a night – to make him more sympathetic, but can’t quite bring himself to show sex, kissing or even very much affection. By contrast, the on-screen romance between Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Ringpiece is positively pornographic.
There is only one sex scene in the film – but it is a wedding-night tryst with Roxanna, a wife that Alexander took after invading Persia (but didn’t get around to impregnating until years later, and only after Hephaestion’s demise). Alexander, by the way, was not “bisexual” in the way that publicity for the movie has carefully suggested. Stone’s Alexander is bisexual in the way that Elton John was “bisexual” in the Seventies: Stone is worried about losing his mainstream, American audience and wants to give them at least half of Alexander to identify with/desire. Of course, terms such as “heterosexual”, “homosexual” and especially “bisexual”, with its sixties ‘free love’ associations, are anachronistic and misleading in an Ancient context where the gender of a male’s partner was of much less importance than the public observance of certain rules of engagement based on age and rank (adult male citizens, for instance, were officially forbidden sexual relations with one another but encouraged to have them with unbearded teenaged youths).
Nevertheless, according to many accounts Alexander’s preference was for the same sex; and there is evidence that in regard to Hephaestion at least he disregarded the ban on sexual relations between adult males.
His mother and father were so frantically worried about the teenage Alexander’s lack of interest in ladies and what this augured for the royal line that they hired a beautiful and famously talented courtesan. The fact that his mother is recorded as pleading with him repeatedly to sleep with the courtesan suggests that this approach wasn’t very successful (and a mother’s pleading, let alone Olympias’, was likely to have been slightly counterproductive). He was to marry, more than once, but mostly for political reasons, or to satisfy demands for an heir. For most of Alexander’s life, boys were for pleasure; Hephaestion was for love; women were for heirs and alliances – and effeminates like Paris. Though, perhaps to confound our modern interpretations, or at least mine, there is evidence he took a mistress towards the end of his life.
Alexander disdained a chance to inspect Paris’ famous lyre, dismissing it as having been used for “adulterous ditties such as captivate and bewitch the hearts of women.” But, he added, “I would gladly see that of Achilles, which he used to sing the glorious deeds of brave men.” This early example of the public school mentality seems to us now like a kind of queeny misogyny, and perhaps it was, but the fearsome queeniness of hyper-masculinity, a queeniness that literally subjected the world (arguably not once, but three times: under Alexander, under the Romans and under the Brits). Alexander’s father Philip may have invented the modern state with his innovation of a standing army, but it was his Empire homo son who proved to be his most potent martial innovation of all.
According to some, possibly mischievous accounts, Macedonia – even by Greek standards – sounds like a giant, jumping, open all hours Ancient leather bar. In fact, the Greeks were scandalised by the “barbaric” and “beastly” behaviour of the Macedonians. Sniffy Greek sources complain that the members of Philip’s court were selected for their prowess at drinking, gambling, or sexual debauchery. “Some of them used to shave their bodies and make them smooth although they were men, and others actually practised lewdness with each other although bearded… Nearly every man in the Greek or barbarian world of a lecherous, loathsome, or ruffianly character flocked to Macedonia.” Actually, Macedonia was the kind of place that most leather queens would be terrified by.
Needless to say, it scares the bejesus out of Hollywood. In Stone’s film (financed mostly by German money), we get occasional, almost subliminal flashes of the real, raucous nature of Macedonian masculinity, with warriors and their boys glimpsed in the background almost necking each other. But despite these hints, the pre-Christian, barracks erotics of Macedonia ultimately defeats Stone precisely because it is too masculine, too pagan. Stone is a liberal Judeo-Christian pussy. Stone the macho director of films about macho men in which women are very thin on the ground wimps out in Alexander. Macedonian masculinity is just too… masculine. But then, this is the contradiction of all these metrowarrior epics: the Ancient World is just too rough and real and beastly and male – and, well, Ancient – for contemporary America.
So the warrior sodomy of Alexander is turned into something modern and harmless, something simulated: Queer Eye for the Macedonian Guy, as one critic dubbed it. In addition to the creepily spayed relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion, which is presented as a kind of contemporary gay marriage (sexless, boring, respectable), there’s a strong smell of Sixties unisex androgyny, like rancid jossticks: Stone has Hephaestion portrayed by the spoilt-girlish Jared Leto, complete with hippy-chick wig, plastered in eyeliner applied by Dusty Springfield. The masculine side of male love is as taboo today as the effeminate side is popular.
There is a strange kind of poetic irony here: after all, in JFK Stone told us that his virile Irish Catholic hero Kennedy was punked by the hissing conspiracies of New Orleans fags. Here Alexander and its director are punked by Stone’s own fear of masculine homosexuality.
But there is, admittedly, a lot to be afraid of. An entire season of Jerry Springer couldn’t come close to one evening’s male jealousies, passions and intrigues in Macedonia. Although Stone makes much of Philip’s assassination he draws a veil over the details. The assassin, one of his bodyguards, was a spurned lover called Pausanias. Noted for his youthful beauty, he had been usurped in the royal bedchamber by another attractive young soldier. Pausanias denounced Philip’s new lover as a male tart and “whore”. The boy then proved his virility and virtue by saving Philip’s life in battle, at the cost of his own. His brother and friends then, as you do, drugged Pausanias and gang raped him before handing him on to their grooms and muleteers who also raped him and then gave him a good beating as thanks. For political reasons Philip refused to punish the wrongdoers and restore Pausanias’s honour. Olympias and Alexander probably then used Pausanias’ fury as an instrument for removing daddy and gaining power. Alexander became king and Emperor of the World because his father was murdered by a neglected male lover. Warrior sodomy is a terrifying, fearsome-fearless thing – don’t mess!
It’s tempting to see this current obsession with the Ancient World as a function of our search for new pagan lights in a chaotic, darkened, post-Christian, post-ideological world in which Posh and Becks have replaced the Holy Family. Tempting, but probably mistaken. None of these films have any gods – except the pathetically democratic, earthbound ones: the celebs that star in them. Real worship, whether of heroes or gods is definitely not on offer. It’s just too messy and dangerous for our safe, sterile, simulated modern lives. Boys today don’t worship or want to be Alexander or Achilles, who both regarded themselves as sons of gods. They want to be Colin or Brad. Or their stylist. Although it is difficult for someone like me to accept, maybe this isn’t all bad. After all, as we’ve seen in present-day Mesopotamia, there really isn’t much room in the world for Empire building these days.
Besides, we’re all too busy playing with our digital watches to care about warrior virtues.
A remarkably, refreshingly reasonable treatment of the Spitzer scandal and the indispensable social role of prostitutes by a woman, Minette Marin, in The London Times (if a straight man had written this he would probably have faced a lengthy free sex ban):
Right up and down the scale, a man can rent a girl a great deal better and more cooperative than the woman he lives with. She will be probably be much more sexually experienced and more accomplished than most wives too. In plain English, or so I am told by perfectly nice men, prostitutes tend to be better at it. They tend to be younger and more energetic. They are also prepared to do things which her indoors might draw the line at. Some prostitutes provide tender loving care, too; the famous madam Cynthia Payne provided her suburban clients with comfort food after the act in the form of poached eggs on toast.
The other awkward fact, which most people must know, but somehow prefer to ignore, is that men often prefer sex without a relationship. Perhaps that is wrong of them, but one must concede that relationships can be wearing, particularly marriage, and sometimes a man just wants time out, and sex without strings is clearly a source of great pleasure, at least for men. If you were an evolutionary biologist you might argue that unfettered sex is entirely natural to men. One might at least agree that hogamous higamous, man seems to be a bit polygamous.
Prostitution, like cruising, is something that makes the institution of marriage tolerable for many men who otherwise wouldn’t be able to meet its rather exacting standards. No strings, slutty sex outside marriage might, for many men, be the only kind of sex there is. For them, sex inside marriage is perhaps the abnormality. ‘Where they love they do not desire and where they desire they cannot love’, as Dr Freud put it. Such is the nature of much male sexuality – for which, of course, quite a few women wish to condemn men as a species.
Gay marriage may have had a lot of press lately, along with the consoling idea that homos are becoming homebodies, but what is rather less publicised is that gay male marriage is, by definition, a much more ‘realistic’ arrangement than the traditional variety. Because it involves two men, they usually don’t hold each other up to such exacting sexual standards. They can’t kid themselves – or each other. Truth be told, the easygoing attitude of many gay partners towards sex outside the relationship – and the use of online cruising sites like Gaydar – would be intolerable for most heterosexual women, and many heterosexual men for that matter.
Male cruising produces even more hysteria and hypocrisy than prostitution – when it involves a man married to a woman. In the midst of all the loudly proclaimed sanctimony over Spitzer’s use of call girls, no one is suggesting that the former NY Governor is obviously a congenital visitor of prostitutes and this this is the truth of who he is and hence his marriage must have been a complete sham from day one and in fact his whole life has been a lie.
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. […]
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