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‘INSIDE THE SORDID PORN SCANDAL THAT’S ROCKING THE ARMY’

That was the salacious front-page block-capitals headline the (now defunct) heavily-fragranced men’s magazine Details gave my exclusive ‘undercover’ story for them in May 2006.

I was reporting on the globally-covered scandal involving US soldiers from the elite 81st Airborne being courts-martialed for appearing in gay porn – from inside, so to speak, a US Army paratrooper at Fort Bragg.

The story is not available online, but now lucky Mark Simpson Patrons can now read the UNCENSORED – and uncircumcised – version of my SCANDALOUS and SORDID and decidedly un-fragranced adventures with NAKED PARATROOPERS at Fort Bragg here.

Just one of the many exciting exclusive benefits of being a Mark Simpson Patron – for as little as $1 a month.

My Details editor insisted on taking out ‘the gory bits’ to save his readers’ sensibilities – so you’ll be glad to know I’ve put them back in, and out, and in again. The piece has also got bigger – and now runs to 5000 words of sordidness.

A long, but hopefully not too hard a read.

Broadband Sodomy

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 certainly seems to light up the reward centres of the commentariat brain. Panics about porn are a habit that just keeps increasing alarmingly.

The UK Government itself is currently in the sweaty grip of this hysteria. With David Cameron’s controversial (and somewhat porous) ISP porn filters only recently installed, MPs are now turning their attention to the popularity of anal sex in online pornography. A recent consultation paper published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport pondered restricting access as a way of reducing the numbers of people wanting to try the back bottom instead of the front one.

“More young people are engaging in anal intercourse than ever before,” reads the paper, solemnly. “While the increase in anal sex cannot be attributed directly to pornography consumption, it does feature in a large percentage of mainstream pornography (for example, one content analysis found it featured in 56pc of sex scenes).”

The paper’s assumptions – as with all porn panics – appear to be entirely heterosexual, so much so that it doesn’t even bother to explicitly state them, even when talking about anal sex. Instead they just cite research which suggests that anal sex “is often not seen as a pleasurable activity for young women”.

In other words, the Government’s anxiety seems to be that straight porn is encouraging straight people to engage in ‘gay sex’.

It’s easy to forget, but just a couple of generations ago any sexual contact between two men, including of course anal sex – the sex act that male homosexuality symbolises for many – was completely illegal in the UK. It wasn’t until the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 that it became partially decriminalised in England and Wales (Scotland followed suit in 1980; Northern Ireland in 1982).

As late as 1986, the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (who also famously introduced the first anti ‘gay propaganda’ law, Section 28) demanded a mention of anal sex be deleted from a government Aids education leaflet.

Many at the time saw Aids as a divine punishment for the ‘sin of Sodom’. And the deep-seated resistance to ‘sodomy’ is of course religious in origin. But it’s important to note that the religious and legal definition of ‘sodomy’ is not restricted to anal sex – it is essentially any non-procreative naughtiness, whatever the shape of the genitals involved. Hence all same-sex sexual contact is sodomy – but so is hetero oral sex, for example. For monotheism, the point of sex is to make more uptight monotheists.

And here’s the rub. ‘Straight’ porn today is basically broadband sodomy – non-procreative sex acts piped into people’s hands for them to commit non-procreative sex acts over.

Current porn panics represent a digital-age, socially-concerned update of warnings about the terrible fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.Nowhere is this clearer than in the US, where (thanks to the First Amendment) most of our porn, and also most of our panics about it, come from. America is a complicated, conflicted country founded by Puritans, constituted by libertarians and built by salesmen.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling in 2003 that anti-sodomy laws violate the constitutional right to privacy, several US states still have them on their statutes. One such state is Utah, which just announced porn to be a ‘public health emergency’, five years after it was revealed to have the highest percentage of online porn subscribers in the US.

Indeed, one of the frontrunners for the Republican Presidential nomination race, Ted Cruz, tried in 2004 to defend a Texas law banning the sale and promotion of dildos and artificial vaginas on the basis that “there is no right to stimulate one’s genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship”. He failed, but it just goes to show that the right to stimulate your own genitals isn’t to be taken for granted.

Nor is onanism necessarily a fundamentalist obsession. The mighty Time magazine recently devoted its front cover to a warning about the supposed horrifying emasculating epidemic as a result of of online masturbation: ‘Porn and The Threat to Virility,’ read the terrifying headline on the feature story.

America, we were warned, faced an epidemic of impotence amongst young men caused by porn and ‘fapping’, slang for masturbation, coined on Reddit’s comment boards. (The sensationalist ‘science’ of this story and many other porn panics, including ‘addiction’ and ‘misogyny’ moralising, was nicely diced and sliced by Joanne Bagshaw at Psychology Today.)

The crusade against ‘fapping’ is eerily reminiscent of the anti-masturbation movements of the 19th century, when male ‘self-abuse’ was widely-seen by respectable right-thinking people on both sides of the Atlantic – and also medical science – as a scourge that led to impotence, weakness, effeminacy, insanity, and the collapse of the nation.

That great American medical man, salesman and devout Seventh Day Adventist Dr John Harvey Kellogg, was one of the most famous foes of the ‘solitary vice’. His bland cornflakes were supposed to save you from it – like porn today, an exciting diet was thought to lead to overstimulation. Other, even more unsavoury ‘cures’ included phenol dripped onto the clitoris and circumcision without anaesthetic.

Male circumcision eventually became dominant in the US – c. 81pc today – in part because of its perceived inhibition of masturbation. Though it seems to have been about as effective as corn flakes at getting men to stop ‘fapping’.

Likewise, today’s panics about online onanism are usually based on a cherished, quasi-religious ideal of ‘natural’ and ‘normal sex’. But instead of procreation, they often assume the ‘purpose’ of sex and sexual desire to be (hetero) ‘love and intimacy’ and cast porn as the satanic lubricant of the fappers’ sins.

The US’s ‘foremost relationship expert’ Dr John Gottman praised Time’s anti-porn crusade in a doom-laden ‘Open Letter on Porn’ which labels it a “serious threat to couple intimacy and relationships” and talks a lot about ‘normal sex’. Again, as in most porn panic texts, including the Time piece and the UK Government consultation papers, the presumption is entirely heterosexual. Same sex relationships don’t exist.

There’s a very good reason for this. As gay therapist Joe Kort points out in this breezy, plain-talking riposte to Dr Gottman and the way discussions on porn as a ‘public health crisis’ and ‘addiction’ always exclude same sexuality relationships, the vast majority of gay and lesbian couples simply don’t have a problem with porn. It’s not rewiring their brains; it’s not destroying their relationships.

How can this be when porn is such a ‘serious threat to couple intimacy and relationships’ – along with the nation’s hard-ons?

Kort thinks it’s because same sex couples are less likely to believe that their loving relationship should forever satisfy the need for outside sexual stimulus for both partners – and less likely to hide their interest in porn.To that I would add that same sex couples probably have less investment in the notion of ‘normal sex’ than most hetero ones – usually having had to overcome social and religious stigma attached to their ‘abnormal’, ‘unnatural’, ‘sodomitic’ sexuality.

To put it bluntly, perhaps when you get over shame about sex there’s sweet FA to panic about.

Tongues at the Ready – Tom’s Tarty Men Appearing on Finnish Stamps

 

Tom of Finland’s drawings are to appear on Finnish stamps this September. What better way to mark the global triumph of his kinky redesign of the male body?

After all, Tom’s men were made to be licked from behind.

Straight Sausagefests: The Slutty, Passive Pleasure of Porn

‘What do women want?’, is the title of a long feature by Amanda Hess at Good Magazine, based around a 25 year-old male (straight) porn star called ‘James Deen’, illustrated with some long-shot snaps of him fully-clothed, lounging around his ‘porn mansion’, looking like a young Roman Abramovich. 

Despite ‘Deen’ turning out to be somewhat less interesting than he’s billed as being (he likes burritos, apparently), the piece nevertheless throws up some interesting questions about what women want from porn. And also, along the way, what men might want too.

Essentially, Deen is a nerdy twink. (A ‘twerd’, if you will.) It seems this is big news in straight porn.

‘Deen has carved out a niche in the porn industry by looking like the one guy who doesn’t belong there. Scroll through L.A.’s top porn agency sites and you’ll find hundreds of pouty women ready to drop to their knees, but just a few dozen men available to have sex with them. These guys all have a familiar look—neck chains, frosted tips, unreasonable biceps, tribal tattoos. Deen looks like he was plucked from a particularly intellectual frat house.’

In other words: Deen doesn’t look vulgar and low-class and thus is worthy of Ms Hess’ and Good magazine’s interest.

‘It’s not that more normal-looking guys don’t want to be in porn, it’s that the industry isn’t exactly looking for them. Within the major porn talent agencies, female performers outnumber male ones almost 5-to-1. The directors and producers hiring them are mostly men. They’re staffing porn’s workforce with an eternally refreshed slate of female bodies, and a handful of guys who look like what men think women want: Big arms. Big abs. Big dicks.’

Hang on. The reason the directors and producers hiring them are mostly men is because the audience for porn as you have admitted is – overwhelmingly – men. And so it follows that the men who become porn actors are not chosen because it’s thought they will appeal to women (though this may be the ‘no-homo’ rationalisation that goes through some men’s heads).

They’re chosen because – in addition to being able to maintain a large erection for hours in front of a camera and crew, something which most mortal men can’t manage – they appeal to men. Most men like and admire big arms. Big abs. And big dicks. Men are so low-class.

‘The porn machine churns out performers to satisfy every fantasy, be it MILF, dwarf, fat, granny, or gang bang. But if you’re interested in watching a young, heterosexual, nonrepulsive man engage in sex, James Deen is basically it.’

So every male porn model doing straight porn, apart from your twinky, slightly dull, and frankly rather homely-looking Deen, is repulsive? Fine. More for me then….

Once upon an 80s time, in the early days of hardcore straight videoporn, when men were first negotiating their anxieties about masturbating over another man’s penis, it was often the case that male porn actors tended to be deliberately ‘repulsive’ – or at least, their appearance was heavily signalled to be ‘completely unimportant’.

But in recent years the appearance of male porn actors is no longer unimportant. It’s expected by the men that consume porn who have themselves become more image and body-conscious that male porn models will take care of themselves. They are not always just a self-propelled penis. More of their body and even their face appears on camera, and hence the body is usually worked on to make it ‘worthy’ of display.

At the very least, the guys watching porn today expect to see male performers who reflect their own metrosexual preoccupations. More than that, I think many young men expect that male porn actor’s bodies should give them visual pleasure. (Deen complains that he gets hate mail from men – who frequently tell him he ‘needs to work out’.) Though it’s true that at the moment there isn’t exactly much variety in that visual pleasure.

You can of course though watch lots of ‘young, heterosexual non-repulsive men’ engaging in sex – but gay-for-pay sex. While the same kind of worked out, tattooed male bodies Hess finds repulsive dominate in gay porn too, because it’s catering mostly to men who have a preference for their own sex it naturally has a much larger range of ‘niche’ ‘types’ available. Which is perhaps part of the reason why some women like it. And I’ll wager there’s at least a dozen gay websites specialising in Deen-ish ‘intellectual frathouse’ twerdy types. (And as this article states further down, they’ll be paid up to ten times as much for it as they would for doing straight porn.)

Then again, I know lots of gay men who only watch straight porn – because they say they prefer the guys in it. And because of course, no matter what kind of male models are used, or however you disembody them, or try to disavow it, hardcore straight porn is by voyeuristic definition bisexual. Gay porn on the other hand is determindedly monosexual. Sexual difference simply does not exist. You never, ever see a vagina in a gay porn flick. Unless it’s in an arthouse movie made by Bruce LaBruce (whom I suspect only puts them in to piss off The Gays).

Anyway, I’m not terribly convinced by Hess’ idea of ‘normal’. She talks a lot in the Good piece about how ‘normal looking’ and ‘naturally-muscled’ Deen is, and how unlike other male porn performers he is. But then mentions, almost as an afterthought, ‘His penis is 9 inches long.’

Assuming this has been, er, fact-checked, statistically this makes Deen literally a fucking freak. Only 0.1% of white males have a penis that ‘normal’.

According to Hess, ‘nonrepulsive’ and affectionate Deen is helping to inflate young women’s interest in porn. Maybe. But then again, young women’s interest in Deen as presented in the piece is often about anything other than the fact that he fucks women on film for a living. They treat him more like a boy-band star who happens to be working as a porn model while waiting for Simon Cowell to notice him.

“I think he is really cute (not in a sexual way),” one woman writes. “I want to talk to him and tell him why I like him,” another says. “It’s not only cause of his amazing talent, it’s because of his personality.” One woman shares a video that “doesn’t have James fucking her but he is there and he is being sweet so I think it’s cute to watch anyway.”

With their animated gifs and collages and focus on the way he gazes into the eyes of his female partners, or holds their hand, you get the impression his women fans are making a kind of fan-fic out of his back catalogue.

Perhaps Deen really does signal the beginning of a sea-change in hardcore porn consumption and production – involving women much more as consumers not just (well-paid) performers.

But probably not with porn producers like Joshua Lehman in charge:

“I get 300 dick pictures sent to my phone every day. I don’t want to see your penis. That’s not how you get into porn.” He advises straight men to “get the hottest bitch you can and make her your girlfriend,” then “go into a producer’s office and have her tell him that you’re the only guy she’ll fuck.”

So if you look like shit and you have a four inch penis you’ll have a career in porn because your girlfriend is a ‘hot bitch’? Yeah, right.

I think the guys sending Mr Lehman pictures of their cocks may have a better idea – or a more honest one – of what straight porn is about than the chap making it. After all, if you watch ‘straight’ online hardcore porn today you will probably see at least 300 (very large) penises in the space of an hour or so’s browsing. And considerably fewer vaginas. I know some working class straight guys who like to send one another pics and vids of especially large penises they’ve found in straight porn to each other’s phones. Which is sweet.

And of course, in the typical porn viewing scenario we have to always add at least one more, very, very important penis to however many there are on screen. The one in the hand of the chap watching it.

But the female porn models are undoubtedly the stars of straight porn – and get paid handsomely, compared the small change thrown at the male models. Partly because loads of gents would do porn for nothing. Partly because straight (and bisexual) fellas are, of course, very keen on the ladies. And partly because the ‘hot chicks’ are what keeps all this penis from being… GAY. Which would, ironically, spoil the virile pleasure of the penises for many of the men watching it (including my gay friends).

‘All of this changes, of course, when there are no girls involved at all. Gay porn stars make “a ridiculous amount more,” Lehman says. “The best male performers make $1,000 a scene on average. Some of the male performers in gay porn make up to $10,000 a scene. That’s why guys do it.” According to Lehman, “some of the guys who do gay for pay would rather be in straight porn,” but if you turn up in gay porn, “we don’t really want you on the straight side,” Lehman says.’

No, because that would let the cat right out of the bag, wouldn’t it? It would suggest some kind of well-lubed continuum between gay and straight porn – both of which are sausagefests. Lehman sounds like his job is keeping straight porn… straight. Less of a porn producer than a porn policeman.

‘Lehman tells me he was recently approached by “two well-known male performers” floating a DVD of their sexual exploits with women. “The box is basically them. Huge pictures of them. In the background, there’s a couple of hot chicks, but it’s real small,” he says. “I looked at it and said, ‘Is it gay porn? Because that’s what it looks like.’” Lehman cannot imagine a future in which this rule does not hold. “Even James Deen. You may see him in every movie, but do you see him at the center of a box? I don’t think so,” Lehman says. “If you put a man in the foreground on a box cover, male and female customers are going to assume it’s gay porn.”

This anxiety is, Hess suggests, part of the reason why (straight) porn doesn’t appeal to women very much.

‘The straight male performer must be attractive enough to serve as a prop, but not so attractive that he becomes the object of desire. As Curry puts it, “No one wants to alienate the male audience.”’

Of course, despite all this careful policing and presentation of hardcore male/female porn as rigidly, conventionally ‘hot chick’ heterosexual, male viewers, just like the female James Deen fans, are very capable of reading it their own kinky way.

I’ve lost count of the number of bi-curious straight men who have told me they were turned on to the joys of sucking or riding penis by watching straight porn. Never ever underestimate the greediness of male voyeurism. In the privacy of their own filthy minds men don’t conscientiously restrict themselves to identifying with the male ‘stud’. They also identify with the ‘slut’ who is ‘getting it’ – from all directions. Particularly since in straight porn she’s the one who is actually allowed to enjoy herself.

Whilst the men have to busy themselves with their ‘work’, like naked gymnastic car mechanics in a hurry to finish their ‘service’, in the centre of all this activity the female porn actress enacts and vocalises – very loudly – the slutty, passive pleasure of sex.

And judging by the number of men they’ve turned into sluts they’re doing a very good job of it.

Tip: Tobias

Fight Club: How Gay is MMA?

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

(Originally appeared in Out magazine, June 2008)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

AAAYYYYYYYYAYYYYEAAAAAAA-AAHHAAAARGH!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 1994 - 2017 Mark Simpson All Rights Reserved.