marksimpson.com

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

Menu Close

Tag: George Michael

The Straightness of George Michael

Mark Simpson on how George Michael was the missing, subversive gay link between Bowie and Beckham

(Rolling Stone, 28/12/2016)

Back in the early 1980s, I was one of those annoying ‘alternative’ teens who, when pressed, would admit they quite liked ‘Wham Rap!’, which extolled the freedoms of unemployment (‘I’m a soul boy! – I’m a dole boy!’), and acknowledged he was ‘really talented’, but essentially dismissed George Michael as ‘too commercial’. Which in the inverted snobbery of the era essentially meant ‘uncool’.

And also – you may find this rather difficult to believe – ‘too straight’.

Thanks to the massive influence of 1970s Bowie (who also checked out this year), the early 80s UK pop scene was queerer than Weimar Berlin on poppers. It was chock full of fabulously ‘freaky’ stars like Pete Burns of Dead or Alive (another victim of 2016), Boy George of Culture Club and Marc Almond of Soft Cell. None of them were particularly out at the time, but then, looking the way they did they probably didn’t need to be.

By dazzling-teethed contrast, the disco-dancing, bird-pulling, Mr Good Time persona Mr Michael presented – but which seems to have been based largely on his Wham partner Andrew Ridgeley – looked almost heterosexual.

Almost. OK, the leather jackets, the naked boy-flesh and the blow-dried hair appears très camp to us now, but that wasn’t necessarily the case at the time. George was officially very much for the ladies and the ladies were even more for him. But also, as his success grew, ‘loadsa’ straight boys wanted to be him.

After all, his (white) soul boy image was a tweaked, glammed-up, sexed-up, slightly Princess Di version of what many wedge-sporting, Lacoste-wearing working class London and Essex lads were styling themselves at the time. And he was mega rich and famous and getting his leg over.

In one of those peculiar postmodern ironies that made masculinity what it is today – flamingly metrosexual – George Michael’s ‘closetedness’ for two decades of pop stardom meant that straight women ended up expecting rather more from straight boys and straight boys ended up copying a gay version of themselves.

Michael’s multiplied image helped make ordinary male heterosexuality visually tartier, while his amplified lyrics helped make it more available emotionally. A straight female friend of mine told me that every single boyfriend she dumped in the 1980s sent her lyrics from ‘A Different Corner’.

George Michael was the missing, subversive – and actually gay – link between David Bowie and that other London pretty boy, David Beckham.

Even when a now-solo Michael ‘butched up’ for the rather more ‘traditionally-minded’ American market with his smash hit 1987 album Faith, the effect was… ambiguous. More so arguably, than the twinkiness of Wham! In the famous promo for the title single, he is wearing jeans, boots, a leather jacket and sunglasses in what looks like a homage to the previous year’s Hollywood fly boys hit Top Gun. But with a large crucifix earring and designer stubble (this accessorization of facial hair is something else ‘gay’ he helped popularise.)

He’s next to a 1950s jukebox like the one in the Top Gun bar, wiggling his butt apparently trying to invent twerking, while the camera zooms in on it relentlessly (the word ‘REVENGE’ hovering above on his leather jacket). Perhaps waiting for Maverick – or maybe Iceman.

This might sound like the wisdom of hindsight, but some contemporary gay boys were picking up the queer vibrations. An American gay male friend who was living on a military base at the time remarked: “He was the first teen idol that felt “gay” to me even though he was always with sexy women in his videos. I didn’t even know what the gay clone look was, but he was sort of replicating it. The earring also seemed a signal – my dad said fags wore those, especially in the left ear.”

George’s phenomenal success in the US and the subconscious ‘down low’ queer signals he was broadcasting in plain sight came, remember, at the height of the Aids crisis and the foam-flecked reactionary backlash in the late 80s against ‘Satanic’ and ‘sick’ homosexuality.

Perhaps it was because of how he’d helped redefine heterosexuality for a generation, when he finally came out in 1998, toilet paper stuck to his shoe, a surprising number of straight people were still shocked – despite having been fairly explicit about his orientation in the lyrics and dedications of his songs for most of that decade.

Though of course there is another piquant irony to be had in the fact that this man whose career had originally been based on ‘masquerading’ as a heterosexual was finally outed in a public restroom by a plainclothes Beverly Hills Police Dept officer who (George claims) was masquerading as a gay man.

However, the way George handled that incident was so defiant and assured that he completely turned the tables on not just the Beverly Hills PD and the tabloid press, but also homophobia itself. He immediately told the world he was gay and refused to display any shame.

Instead, he released ‘Outside’, a jaunty single extolling the pleasures of outdoor sex for everyone, regardless of sexuality – along with a video that featured cross and same sex couples getting it on in hidden away outdoor places, while being recorded by a police helicopter. George in gay cop gear disco dances in a public restroom where the glitter balls descend from the air vents and the urinals revolve. In many ways, this was the absolute zenith of pop music as propaganda for pleasure and against shame.

What George achieved with ‘Outside’ was certainly than historic. That original pop star Oscar Wilde had been convicted of Gross Indecency a hundred years earlier and been completely destroyed by it. George had turned his own ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’ into an all-singing, all-dancing commercial and cultural triumph.

Now that he was out, New Millennium George still refused to ‘go quietly’ and ‘make it easy on himself’. He was not what you might call a ‘good gay’. He had a long term partner but was frank about the fact that their relationship was an open one – when most gay celebrity couples maintained a veneer of monogamous respectability.

He remained true to the dream (and nightmare) of masculine freedom that male homosexuality can symbolise. For all his faults and increasing foolishness, he refused to become that most absurd of things a ‘role model’. He insisted that he remained a sexual being – unlike most other celeb UK gays in the Noughties. ‘Gay people in the media are doing what makes straight people comfortable,’ he told the Guardian in 2005. ‘And automatically my response to that is to say I’m a dirty filthy fucker and if you can’t deal with it, you can’t deal with it.’

The tabloids thought they knew how to ‘deal’ with it. In 2006 they sent a flash photographer to follow him to the famous gay cruising area of Hampstead Heath, a large park in north London – at 2am – and plaster the results all over the front page, along with oodles of hypocritical concern about his ‘sick’ and ‘sordid’ behaviour and warnings/incitements that he ‘could get his throat cut’.

His reported response to the photographer when ‘snapped’ was, however, pitch perfect: “Are you gay? No? Well fuck off then!”

Sexual jealousy of course was at the root of it all. The scandalously free availability of ‘no-strings’ sex is an aspect of the gay and bi male world that many straight men tend to be very interested in, one way or another – and had been at the root of much of the tabloid attacks on gay men at the height of the Aids panic. Gay men ‘deserved’ Aids because of their ‘unnatural’ sex lives and their promiscuity. For having, in other words, too much fun.

One famous tabloid editor and columnist from that era worked himself into a violent lather of indignation: ‘I can’t stand George Michael and every time he tries to laugh off another vile gay sex exploit I dislike him a little more… I’d like to give him a good kick in the balls. Unfortunately, he’d probably enjoy it.’

But these bitter voices were already beginning to recede into the past – thanks in part to the changes that Mr Michael had helped bring about by being the kind of ‘commercial’ pop star I disdained in my teens. And of course, nowadays straight people have Tinder. While in the UK at least, straight(ish) ‘dogging’ has pretty much replaced gay ‘cruising’.

His continued, unapologetic – ahem – pride in his not always exactly wise life-choices remains invigoratingly rare in an age of safe sleb spin and public apologies as grovelling as they are empty.

‘I don’t want any children; I don’t want responsibility,’ he told Time Out matter-of-factly in 2007. ‘I am gay, I smoke weed and I do exactly what I want in my life because of my talent’.

Michael’s earlier secrecy about his sexuality was criticised by many – including gay pop stars who didn’t come out until after their careers were effectively over. Perhaps he could, as some have insisted, combatted the transatlantic anti-gay tide by coming out in the 80s or early 90s. Or perhaps his career would merely have been ended, and with it much of his influence.

Whatever his reasons for staying in so long, and whatever the long term effects on his happiness, being ‘openly closeted’ for so long seems to have been key to not only making Michael a commercially-successful artist but also a surprisingly subversive one.

And perhaps it also lay behind his determination, once out, not to go back into the biggest closet of all. Respectability.

Boy George and George Michael – queer cellmates?

boygeorge2

Mark Simpson ponders the trouble the two Georges, Boy and Michael, have been getting in lately in this month’s Out:

What is it about middle-aged queer British pop stars from the ’80s? Why can’t they settle down, keep their noses clean, their peckers zippered, and their faces out of the papers? More precisely, what is it about middle-aged queer British pop stars from the ’80s named George?

George Alan O’Dowd, slightly better known as Boy George, former Culture Club front/frock man, starts 2009 being “banged up” — as we call prison sentences in the U.K. — for attacking and imprisoning a Norwegian male escort he’d invited to his home.

Read the article in full here.

I (Still) Want Your sex: The Sun & George Michael’s privates

In case you thought I was joking when I wrote about the gentlemen of the British press being unable to leave George Michael’s penis alone, today’s Sun newspaper, twisted sister tabloid to the News of the World scandal sheet that ran the original front page Hampstead Heath expose, provides further, lurid proof of the seriousness of their passionate fascination.

In a torrid piece snappily titled ‘Are there no depths George won’t plumb in pursuit of lust?’ by Kelvin Mackenzie, a former editor of the best-selling paper, and legendary figure in the world of tabloid newspapers, we learn that it isn’t just his penis that they can’t leave alone. It’s also his balls.

‘I can’t stand George Michael,’ McKenzie informs us, ‘and every time he tries to laugh off another vile gay sex exploit I dislike him a little more…’

Oh, come now, the lady doth protest too much. Go on, admit it, Kelvin, you LOVE him!

Mackenzie goes on to whine at length about how he is personally affronted and disgusted by the fact that George Micheal can have no-strings sex when he wants it – for free – and, even worse, that his partner doesn’t mind. All in all, it is quite insufferable, isn’t it? Well, it is if you look like Kelvin Mackenzie.

Alas, sexual jealousy can be an ugly, violent, even murderous thing.  Amplifying and in fact spelling out the NOTW’s criminal incitement fantasy about Michael having ‘his throat cut’, Mackenzie writes:

‘… one day I suspect Michael will come a terrible cropper pursuing his sexuality.  There are some nasty people around.’

Indeed there are, Kelvin.

A few paragraphs later, at the end of the piece we discover where those nasty people are. And they’re not on Hampstead Heath:

‘Personally, I’d like to give him a good kick in the balls. Unfortunately he’d probably enjoy it.’

But not as much as you do writing about his privates, Kelvin.

Mackenzie has a lot of previous in this area. He was after all the editor of The Sun during it’s ‘heyday’ in the Eighties, when it was utterly obsessed with gay men and their sex-lives and did its best to whip up hatred for homos – give them ‘a good kicking in the balls’ – and portray Aids as a ‘gay plague’ which queers richly deserved because of their promiscuity.

Because, in other words, they were having too much fun.

I Want Your Sex: Why the Press Can’t Leave George Michael’s Manhood Alone

george-747679

Why are the gentlemen of the popular press so interested in George Michael’s manhood?  Why won’t they leave it alone?

In 1998, after stalking him for years, in a painful pincer movement with Beverly Hills Police Department’s finest, they finally succeeded in catching him short in a men’s toilet. Now they despatch a flash photographer to follow him up to Hampstead Heath’s cruising area at 2am and then plaster the results all over the front page.

No wonder Michael angrily turned to the snapper and snapped: ‘Are you gay?  No?  Well f**K off then!’

Personally, I’ve never been that interested in George Michael’s toilet parts. I used to live a mile or so away from Hampstead Heath and cruised it myself many times (before the internet spoilt everything), and have seen Mr Michael down there – but we never bumped uglies.

The tabs appear most shocked by the fact that Mr Michael ‘who could have anyone’ allegedly chose to have fun in the dark, in the bushes with an unemployed 58-year-old pot-bellied man who lives ‘in a squalid flat in Brighton’. Yes, how awful. What a terrible crime. Perhaps he should have shagged the straight flash photographer instead? We know he has a much better paid job.

Of course, there’s more hypocrisy wafting across this story than poppers on a warm Saturday night on the Heath. Michael is lambasted for his ‘sick’ and ‘sordid’ ‘crazy’ and ‘addicted’ behaviour and advised to ‘seek counselling’ (plus rather a lot of barely-disguised queer-bashing incitement in the form of ‘warnings’ that he ‘could get his throat cut’).

But part of reason why the tabs are so interested in this story – and why they can’t leave George’s penis alone – is precisely because many if not most men can perfectly understand the appeal of anonymous, no-strings, no-romance sex.

It is this freely-available aspect of the homo demi-monde which most fascinates many straight men. Because they usually have to pay for it. Unless they’re very lucky.

In the same issue of the NOTW that exposed George Michael’s ‘sick’ behaviour one of the stars of reality TV show Bad Lads’ Army (someone whom I would like to bump uglies with) bragged that he had had sex with nearly 500 women before he reached the age of 21 and would often pick up three women a day on holiday.

Now, I’m guessing that with those stats their age, looks, employment status and the tidiness of their homes weren’t exactly major considerations for these chaps. Naturally, The Sun was as admiring and envious of this laddish behaviour as it was condemning of Michael’s. What’s sauce for the straight goose should be sauce for the gay gander.

This is something that Michael successfully argued himself after he was caught in that Beverly Hills lavatory in 1998. His single ‘Outside’ sang the praises of public sex. It was probably precisely his success in turning around this humiliation that embittered the tabs against him. The tabs hate it when they’re out-tabbed by their victims.

Inevitably, Michael’s long-term partner was mentioned in the Hampstead Heath expose to give a veneer of journalistic value to the story, but in fact Michael has been very frank about the ‘open’ nature of his relationship.  This is a degree of honesty with the world that few celeb gay couples show – even though many of them are in relationships more open than 7-Eleven.

Michael’s visit to Hampstead Heath just before a major comeback tour, wasn’t very clever, wasn’t terribly grown-up, and it may or may not be a sign of ‘compulsive’ behaviour, but it is certainly not a matter of national importance. Or even terribly interesting.

Male sexuality, gay or straight, is not very easily domesticated. If it were, then the tabloids would be the first to go out of business.

And Hampstead Heath wouldn’t be so busy at 2am. Even if nowadays newspaper photographers compulsively cruising for a story outnumber the punters.

Copyright © 1994 - 2017 Mark Simpson All Rights Reserved.