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

Category: commentary (page 1 of 80)

Welcome to the Hotel Scopophilia

Mark Simpson checks out The Voyeur’s Motel

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix. Which is what I seem to mostly do, TV-wise, these days – being middle-aged and male. This one wasn’t about Hitler, or unsolved grisly murders, or steam trains, however. It was called Voyeur. So, I think you can probably understand what drew my dirty old eye.

Despite the lack of any actual visual filth, it was firmly fascinating. Voyeuristically. I’m not generally into the ‘older male’ – especially now I’m fast becoming one – but I found myself engrossed by the exposed intimate interplay of two elderly gentlemen endowed with unfeasibly large egos. Made in 2017, the doc tells the story of how a 85-year-old journalist and a 79-year-old voyeur sired a New Yorker article and then a book. And even more intriguingly, how they possibly try to fuck each other – in the Mametian sense of the expletive.

Gerald Foos, the voyeur, for three decades owned a 22 room Colorado motel which he bought in the 1960s for the specific purpose of secretly spying on guests in their room, and bathroom, from an ‘observation platform’ he had installed in the loft. Peering through 6 x 14 inch holes cut in the ceilings of his rooms, covered by specially-designed fake ceiling vents.

And when I say ‘spy’, I mean perve. Although Foos saw himself as a researcher into human behaviour, it was nakedness and sexual activity between the guests that mostly interested and aroused him and filled the many journals he kept, and which Gay Talese, the journalist in this coupling, used as the basis of his essay and book. Foos, who frequently refers to himself in his journals in the third person as ‘The Voyeur’, originally approached Talese after reading his 1981 exploration of the free love subculture, Thy Neighbour’s Wife – which Talese assiduously and selflessly prepared for by residing several months at a clothing-optional resort. Writers and voyeurs savour human nakedness like mosquitos.

Foos did also manage to do quite a bit of common-or-garden non-erotic spying – such as the time he waited in the loft to catch a couple’s pet dog crapping on the carpet in their room, and then dumbfounded them during check-out inspection by being able to immediately detect the mutt mishap, despite the fact they had hidden the stain behind a chair. Foos triumphantly withholding their $15 pet deposit he required against… pet deposits.

(Actually, in the re-telling, this anecdote does seem to be mostly about anality.)

The celebrated – as much as any scribbler can hope to be – and devastatingly dapper Gay Talese essentially created the New Journalism with his Esquire profile ‘Frank Sinatra Has a Cold’: an extraordinary literary tour de force of 15,000 glistening words, and only a handful of them surly Sinatra’s. Bearded, burly Foos, until now a much more obscure figure, is rather less dapper and distinguished (in fact Talese insists that he wear a shirt and tie when on camera with him, instead of Foos’ favoured loungewear). Hilariously, Talese’s fastidiousness nearly gave the game away when he joined Foos on his viewing platform one evening to confirm the set-up. Foos had to suddenly yank him away from the vent: his silk tie was dangling into the room, just above the love-making couple he was peering at – fortunately, they were too engrossed in one another to notice the pendulous necktie trying to join in.

Foos was rather glamorous and devastating back in his 1950s US Navy diver days, as an old photo we glimpse of him in his trunks attests: I would certainly have perved. Though perhaps not gone to the trouble of building a viewing platform.

The documentary is not however just about Foos and Talese. It’s a foursome. It’s about the relationship between the two of them and their agendas and also their relationship to the documentary makers, Josh Koury and Myles Kane – and their agenda. Towards the end of the doc, from behind the camera, one of them asks Foos, with Talese sitting next to him, if he has any regrets about the collaboration – having already asked him this question earlier without Talese there. Talese is nobody’s fool and immediately and loudly denounces the directors for trying to trick Foos into contradicting himself and warns him that they’re trying to discredit him. He’s absolutely right, but it’s also perhaps his way of preventing that issue being aired.

Another point of drama is Talese’s incandescent rage on discovering that Foos had misled him: the journals begin a few years before he even owned the motel (something discovered by Washington Post fact-checkers – not by Talese). Talese rages on camera, in the bunker-esque basement of his palatial Manhattan Brownstone, that he is going to cancel the launch and publicly disavow the book, complaining that Foos has trashed his reputation. He later relents and re-avows the book, arguing that some factual inaccuracies don’t detract from its importance. Talese is certainly media-savvy enough to know the value of this kind of outburst on film, but his anger seemed very convincing to me. It was as if he’d suddenly realised that Foos had fucked him. Or been spying on him in his bathroom.

(An excellent write-up of the documentary with some input from the makers can be found here.)

Eager for more, I read the New Yorker article. Then I downloaded the Kindle version of the book. Which I devoured, but it was, in truth, slightly anti-climactic. After all that build-up, all that edging, the book seems a bit thin, considering Foos journals supposedly cover thirty years of nightly viewings. Talese fillets what I imagine are the best bits of Foos’ journals and writes connecting synopses, which attempt to distance himself somewhat from his subject/source. I’m sure that Foos like most fetishists (and narcissists) was extremely repetitive. I certainly I am. And Talese probably had a difficult job working through three decades of ‘observations’. But I can’t help but wonder if a less Talesed version of his journals might not have been more interesting, or at least more useful – as a case study.

Many of Foos’ entries suggest his voyeurism was bound up with a sadistic need to a prove his own superiority and smarts. When he is talking/bragging about the lengths and expense he has gone to design and manufacture ceiling vents that will allow him to observe his guests without himself being observed, and the problems he’s having with the manufacturers, he repeatedly sneers at them for their stupidity in asking entirely sensible questions about the design of his vents:

Nov. 21, 1966 – These idiots working for this sheet metal shop are dumb as radishes. They never think on a level higher than cigarettes or beer. “This vent will never function properly,” they say. If I told them what purpose it was going to serve they probably wouldn’t comprehend.

[Talese, Gay, The Voyeur’s Motel, Atlantic Press; Kindle edition 2017]

The fetishist often entertains a sense of superiority over those that don’t share their fetish (see also homosexuality). Voyeurism is a kind of omniscience, or a hankering after it. And the voyeur of course imagines that he (or she – but usually he) controls what he sees. And in a sense, he does, because in this case, he is unseen – while his subjects are seen by him. They exist for him. For his pleasure, and for his abuse. His curiosity is a desire to see what is supposed to be hidden and in that knowledge there is power.

But woe-betide the guest who has sex with the lights off – or under the sheets. At least one guest who preferred darkness – turning off the lights and the TV – for the performance of his conjugal duties prompted an immediate, creative and somewhat aggressive response from Foos:

‘I won’t stand for this at all. I return to the ground level and get in my car, and then drive it and park it directly in front of the #4 unit, parking it and leaving it there with the bright lights beaming on their window. Returning to the observation platform, he is standing up peeking through the curtains, complaining that “some son-of-a-bitch has left his lights on.”’

Unfortunately for Foos, his valiant efforts to lighten their sexual darkness come to nothing: the couple and the action then retreat to the Christian safety of beneath the bed covers, and he has to satisfy himself with observing the ‘animal-like thrusting under the covers’ that lasts for ‘three minutes’.

‘I finally get to see her body when she uncovers to wipe the semen away on my bedspread. She is very beautifully proportioned, but probably equally stupid and dumb. He comes back from the bathroom and notes that the lights outside are still on. He says, “I wonder what the situation is with this car with the lights on.” Stupid bastard, he’ll never know what my situation is, but I am well informed as to his unfortunate position in life.’

Note the God-like omniscience of the voyeur again: Stupid bastard, he’ll never know what my situation is, but I am well informed as to his unfortunate position in life.

In fairness, Foos is also angry with the ‘stupid bastard’ because of his lack of tenderness towards and communication with his wife (he often takes this gallant position, from his lofty eyrie). But it is mostly about him frustrating Foos’ perving – and anyway, she is dismissed as ‘probably equally stupid and dumb’. Perhaps because she wiped ‘the semen away on my bedspread’.

And then we have Foos’ pronounced tendency to despair of human nature and his general lack of trust in people – based on his ‘research’. That’s to say, he becomes bitter at the human failures and shortcomings of his paying customers, who wipe their KFC-covered hands (and semen spills) on the bed clothes. That he witnesses while spying on them for cheap thrills.

People can’t be trusted, is his sad conclusion about the human race. So true.

He even organises a test, a kind of Satanic temptation which involves a small, padlocked suitcase left in a cupboard in the room. He arranges for his wife to call him when guests check in, pretending to be a guest who has left her suitcase in the room with $1,000 in cash, making sure they overhear him. He then takes his position on the observation platform to witness human weakness in action.

The human race fails this test, dismally. A result which, I suspect, gave Foos a semi. He claims almost everyone forced the lock, and when they discover that instead of money, it’s full of old clothes, they then try to smuggle it out of their rooms to dispose of the evidence. Out of fifteen guests, only one, a middle class woman, returned the suitcase to the office without trying to open it: ‘And so of the fifteen test cases, only the woman was not tempted by greed. The Voyeur rests his case.’

Much as I enjoy the description Foos gives of a light-fingered minister frantically heaving the burglarized (as they say in the US) suitcase out of the bathroom window and throwing it into the hedge – and, in my imagination, sweating coldly for decades after at the thought of it being discovered and connected to him – this ‘test’ seems to me to be another manifestation of sadism, mixed with god-like ambitions. Foos would have made an excellent reality TV producer. (In fact, a 2002 reality TV show called Swag, produced by Madonna’s then-husband Guy Ritchie, seems to have been based on the same premise as Foos’ 1960s test.)

Foos put me oddly in mind of the bored prison guard in Jean Genet’s classic 1950s porn flic Un Chant d’Amour, who peers through spy-holes at various even more bored prisoners masturbating in different fashions. And after all, Foos’ motel, like many motels back then was a place that existed in part because of repression. Many of his guest were de facto criminals, sentenced to the limbo-land of roadside lodgings – and his ‘observations’ – by American mores. Much of what they were getting up to was taboo and illegal in 1960s America: adultery (sex with someone other than your marital partner) fornication (any sex outside marriage) and ‘sodomy’. Defined in Colorado law as oral and anal sex, whether homosexual or heterosexual, and carried a maximum penalty of 15 years, sodomy was only removed from the state’s statute books in 1971. (In 2019, many US states still had adultery and fornication laws on their statute books, though rarely used.)

The set up also put me in mind of Alfred Hitchcock’s Norman Bates, who famously spies on Marion Crane undressing in her room in his famous motel through a peephole in his office, hidden behind a symbolically significant painting. Foos bought his ‘voyeur’ motel a few years after Psycho, a film as much about the audience’s voyeurism as Bates’, was released in 1960 – though without, as far as we know, subsequently slashing anyone in the showers.

He does though claim to have witnessed the strangling of a young woman in one of his rooms. (In the documentary, Talese fails to find any mention of the murder in local police files.) Foos doesn’t appear to have any particular rage or hatred towards women – quite the opposite. He was married (twice), and both his wives seem to have been devoted and completely accepting and in fact supportive of his unusual hobby – that would often, he says, occupy him all night. His second, younger, wife, taken after the untimely death of his first, apparently often joined in with his voyeurism, and is there in the documentary, endlessly tenderly patient, protective, and caring of him in his cantankerous dotage. (Women’s interest in men is an eternal mystery to me – precisely because I appear to share it, but only on the surface. After all, when it comes to men, I’m a voyeur too.)

Most of the couples he spies on seem, by his account, to hate one another, be agonisingly mis-matched, or simply deeply uninterested in one another, and – most pitiful of all for Foos – hopelessly bad in bed. Foos’ misanthropy and pessimism about human relations (other than his own) is magically suspended for lesbian couples. He waxes lyrical about the mutuality and tenderness of sapphic love-making, in comparison to the selfishness of men:

‘Unfortunately, the majority of men I’ve observed are concerned with their own pleasure rather than the women’s. There is far less emotional love than just physical love. Lesbians, on the other hand, are better lovers to each other; they know what their partner wants and most of all there is an emotional closeness that can never be matched by a man. More tenderness, more consideration and understanding of feelings, etc.’

Foos is quite ‘liberated’ for his era. Not just in terms of his attitude towards lesbianism and women in general. He describes the attractiveness of the male partners as well the female ones, if generally in less detail – but he doesn’t pretend to be uninterested in or blind to the appearance of the males. In fact, when a single ‘handsome male’ checks in he makes sure he is assigned to a room with a viewing vent, in the expectation/hope that he will be joined by a girl later. He also records dispassionately instances of male on male activity, including one where a younger male dressed as a sheep and made loud baaa-ing noises while being chased around the room on his hands and knees by a ‘rotund’ older male. Foos, unlike me, refuses to judge:

Conclusion: This condition could perhaps be classified as a perversity, but it should not be condemned because both individuals are willing participants, and therefore the Voyeur will remain nondiscriminatory in its interpretation.

He also exhibits great sympathy for the plight of disabled young Vietnam vets, many of whom stayed at his motel with their wives. This helps turn him resolutely against the war, before mainstream public opinion did.

One particularly exciting tryst for him was witnessing his first threesome, back in 1966 when such things were still adventurous, involving a married couple and an attractive, hung (“at least 8-10 inches” – the lackadaisical two-inch margin of error being conclusive proof that Foos is not gay) younger man in the role of ‘stud’, while the husband directed and took photos.

‘…the husband got real close to the plunging penis and exclaimed, “You have such a nice big cock and I love to see it go in and out.” The husband was now more actively engaged in masturbation and reached orgasm at the same time as his wife and their companion. Then the husband said: “Hold it right there, and don’t withdraw your cock until I get my camera ready.” He took several pictures of the companion’s penis still embedded in his wife’s vagina, with the semen running down.’

As a famous 1960s Kodak commercial put it, record your ‘Warm and fuzzy memories’.

Foos concludes wistfully:

‘…And so I have seen my first episode of “threesome sex,” which enables this husband to fulfil his voyeur’s drive. I could completely envision myself playing the husband’s role, and I would definitely like to explore the possibilities of seeing this transpire in my life. I would really like to participate, and it displeases me that, at present, I must remain an observer. Incidentally, this was the largest penis that I have seen so far.’

Much like ‘hardcore’ porn, voyeurism is related to the visibility of the phallus – both the one spied and the one in the male voyeur’s hand (and the missing one of the mother, according to the Freudian explanation of fetishism). Even if the point of it, from a hetero perspective, is to be seen disappearing in a female orifice. And then reappearing: I love to see it go in and out. Group sex, along with oral sex, interracial sex and sex outside of marriage, was to become much more common as American mores, post-1960s, softened, according to Foos’ later observations. But it’s unclear whether he ever got around to participating. Or, more importantly, whether he ever saw a larger penis.

Foos would also plant sexual paraphernalia in guest’s rooms, one dildo and one pornographic magazine ‘and then wait for an unsuspecting subject, and place her, or him, or a couple in that room, depending on what type of information was desired from the subject.’ He bought 50 of each. No one complained or returned any of the items.

‘Fifty percent of the women utilized the dildo or magazines, the other fifty percent either ignored the devices or discarded them.’

Whether men ever used the Gideon dildos isn’t recorded. It is mentioned however that one of the women who did was a nun.

In keeping with his image of himself as a latter-day Dr Kinsey, as well as The Voyeur, he compiled annual reports. In 1973, for example, he noted that of the 296 sexual acts he witnessed, 195 were heterosexual white people who generally favoured intercourse in the missionary position, and less frequently accompanied it with oral sex and masturbation. The annual total of orgasms was 184 male orgasms and thirty-three female orgasms (though he admits some of these may have been faked).

The remaining seventy-four guests broke down into:

  • Twenty-six sexually active black heterosexual guests, ‘their preferred positions and orgasmic ratio was similar to the whites’.
  • Ten white lesbian guests, all of whom took turns performing cunnilingus.
  • Seven white homosexual males exchanging oral and anal sex
  • There were ten guests who participated in interracial sex and who also engaged in oral and intercourse.
  • Fifteen guests whose sexual behaviour didn’t fit into any of these categories – and included a man who urinated secretly in his female partners bourbon, a cross-dressing single male and the aforementioned sheep-and-shepherd male couple.

Interesting as they are, I’m not entirely sure how much value these reports have. But then again, despite having repeatedly made fun of the notion myself, I don’t think we can completely dismiss the ‘research’ aspect of Foos perving. When it comes to sex, research is never entirely perve-free. Freud saw libido and curiosity as inextricably linked – ‘you show me yours and I’ll show you mine’ and ‘where do babies come from?’ being two sides of the same enquiry.

Although Foos’ repeatedly describes himself as ‘the World’s Greatest Voyeur’ this is clearly not true. The great Alfred Kinsey, or ‘Doctor Sex’ as he was dubbed by the press, would have to take that accolade: with his Sex Research Institute, he succeeded in constructing a gigantic panopticon of sex – or ‘viewing platform’ – in 1940s and 1950s America with him at the centre. Kinsey personally observed hundreds of acts of coitus and masturbation, and his Institute filed and photographed thousands more. Kinsey also famously conducted thousands of intimate interviews with people about their sex lives.

Granted his approach was rather more scientific than Foos’, not to mention consensual. But he wasn’t entirely ‘respectable’ or ‘perve-free’ either, thankfully. The ‘indecency’ of what he was doing was not lost on many at the time. The owner of a hotel where Kinsey was conducting interviews famously lost patience with the long line of young men waiting outside Kinsey’s room and threw him out, shouting:

‘I WILL NOT HAVE YOU UNDRESSING PEOPLE’S MINDS IN MY HOTEL!’

Foos, of course, wouldn’t have seen the lines. He’d have been too busy breathing heavily through his fake ceiling vents.

This post originally appeared on Simpson’s Patreon

Further reading:

Back to the Future: Escaping Sexology

My (highly attenuated) attention was recently directed to an LWT doc from 1981 available on YouTube . It compares the pre-war, pre-gay world of ‘sisters’ (‘musical’ friends you didn’t want to fuck) and ‘trade’ (‘normal’ working class ‘real’ men you really did), with the post-Stonewall, butched-up, Marlborough Man world of gay-on-gay early 1980s love action.

I can’t remember seeing it before, and the pioneering gay-interest series Gay Life that it was part of was originally broadcast only in the London area – when I was revising for my O-Levels in Yorkshire. But perhaps I somehow did, and it shaped my entire worldview – and so I naturally repressed the memory of it to protect my fond image of myself as my own man.

Gifford Skinner, the delightful old quean in tweeds talking in the first half about his 1930s sex life, is very much his own man – though it’s difficult now not to see him in a Harry & Paul sketch. He is here a living and still very lively link with London’s vanished world of ‘trade’: otherwise ‘normal’ working class young men and soldiers and sailors who would sleep with (usually middle or upper class) queers, for a few bob, a few pints, or just a few laughs. Born in 1911, the son of a publican, he would have been in his twenties in the 1930s, and 70 when the documentary was made. (Today – I can’t find a date for his death online – he would be 110 years old.)

What strikes me about Gifford’s reminiscing, apart from his wonderfully mannered way of talking – ‘My DEAR!’ – is how this veteran from an era of supposed sexual repression and rampant homophobia, guilt and self-loathing, talks so frankly and fearlessly, so matter-of-factly about his adventurous youth, and his enthusiastic and very definite desires. The opposite of how things are today in our ‘liberated’ age – when everything has to be ideologically-filtered and pre-censored in order to avoid offence and cancellation.

There’s the fixation on his fellow infant school-chums’ bottoms:

‘We did an awful lot of marching in those days – and I always used to look at the boy in front, his bottom, the crease came from side to side, I found it was absolutely fascinating’.

Followed by his adult love for ‘real men’ and ‘rough types’. And his attitude towards his ‘sisters’, exemplified in a typical exchange he recounted with one of his ‘bits of trade’ – who found it difficult to understand why he didn’t want to sleep with his friends:

‘“Why do you like going with me? Why don’t you go with one of your friends, they’re so elegant and attractive – like Jeremy?”’

‘“Oh MY GOD! I couldn’t go to bed with HER!”’

‘They always thought it strange that we would run the risk of taking a stranger back home instead… It was absolutely impossible. I couldn’t consider such a thing. I really liked the real thing or nothing.’

The ‘real thing’ was particularly guardsmen, who could be found in large numbers in Hyde Park on any afternoon. Where you could ‘spot them a mile off’.

‘They had to wear their red tunics when they were out, no civilian clothes were worn, magnificent red tunics. They looked very, very smart indeed – they were magnificent really. You would tell them a mile off. The colour was gorgeous against the green in Hyde Park!’

But perhaps his recollection that stays with me the most is his memory of how many of the military men had a mate or ‘oppo’ that they were ‘inseparable from’ – especially sailors. And so, they would both come back to Gifford’s, one of them sleeping in the living room chair while the chosen one spent the night in bed with the welcoming host. His lonely, cold, creased up, best pal listening to the sounds of magnificent giggly sodomy next door.

Also fascinating is the testimony of the late Dudley Cave, as an example of the 1940s-50s new-wave of self-identified ‘invert’, speaking from the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard phone room, having been one of the founding members since it was launched in 1974. (And where he was still working, and still being eminently charming and helpful to everyone, when I volunteered in the late 1980s – back when I still had some milk of human kindness about me).

Joining the army in 1941, aged 20, and distressed about his ‘abnormal’ desires, a sympathetic army psychiatrist loaned Dudley a copy of Havelock Ellis’ Sexual Inversion in the Male, and he recognised himself within its pages immediately. Right down to the supposed preference for the colour blue and the ‘triangular’ pubes allegedly common to the ‘inborn’ invert or homosexual. Although some of Ellis’ notions seem laughable now – but perhaps no more so than some of the contemporary pseudo-science of congenital gay creationism – it helped Dudley be much more accepting of his sexuality. And in fact, set him on the road to become an advocate for gay equality after the war.

(Interestingly, according to this 2004 tribute by Peter Tatchell, Dudley who was a survivor of Japanese POW camps, found that homosexuality was ‘more or less accepted in the Army’, and contrary to the obsession that was to develop after the war, no one was disciplined for it – despite there being rather a lot of it going on – and the worst prejudice he ever experienced was being chided for ‘holding a broom like a woman’.)

The sexual historian Jeffrey Weeks also pops up in the second half of the doc. He isn’t quite as entertaining as Gifford – a very hard act to follow – but he is saying eminently sensible things about how the modern gay identity emerged out of the taxonomies of 19th sexologists, who ‘discovered’ a new species, ‘the homosexual’, making same-sexing a condition or essence rather than an act or sin. And how it is time to move beyond these rigid definitions that ‘don’t correspond to the range of desires of wishes or needs that they actually have’.

That, in other words, the pre-gay world of ‘so’ Gifford and his ‘rough’ chums had something going for it.

But the 1980s was to take no notice of Weeks, or Gifford. What actually happened was of course Aids and Thatcherism-Reaganism. Which largely succeeded in locking down the sexual openness and experimentation of the ‘gender bending’ early 80s and reaffirmed instead both the gay identity and its ‘pathology’. Quarantining queer desire in the queer body.

h/t James Sheen

Chivalry & Bloody Showbiz – The Jesse James Story

A lively tale of a charming bandit and proto-terrorist prompts Mark Simpson to wonder why we’re still thrilled by ruffians.

(Independent on Sunday, 5/1/2003)

Why, after so many years, are we still so hot for outlaws? As popular culture and news bulletins keep reminding us, Rebels, Robin Hoods, bandits, gangsters, serial killers and terrorists continue to exert a sweaty grip on our imaginations. 

Is it because, to strike a Nietzschean pose (riding crop in hand), those who are not sadists are necessarily masochists? Are we all secretly itching to be held up, tied up and blown up? Is civilisation such a non-experience that we need a – preferably young, attractive and well-dressed – feral-eyed brute to slap us out of our dullard drowsiness?

Or is it because, having surrendered our own sadism to civilisation, we need someone who will rob and kill on our behalf? Someone who will, in other words, be “free” for us: an emotional lottery winner justifying our own pitiful, ticket-stamping repression – hence the need to make them very, very famous? Are “sociopath” and “psychopath” just names we like to call those who have more guts for life than us, but not enough education to know what we mean?

Jesse James, “last rebel of the American Civil War” and one of the first rebels of the modern age, didn’t have much of an education, but he certainly had an answer. “We are the boys that are hard to handle,” he declared in one of his many swaggering missives to the press, “and will make it hot for the party that ever tries to take us.”

Or, as Robert Pinkerton, the head of the famous Chicago-based detective agency humiliated by James after trying to “take” him, put it: 

“His gang killed two of our detectives and I consider JJ the worst man, without any exception, in America. He is utterly devoid of fear and has no more compunction about cold-blooded murder than he has about eating his breakfast.” 

High praise indeed from Mr. Pinkerton, whose men firebombed James’ mother in her home, maiming her and killing his young half-brother, and were to become the hired goons of strike-breaking US businessmen.

The passengers on the St Louis-Little Rock express flagged down and boarded at Gads Hill, Missouri, in January 1874 knew better than to try to take on Jesse, an irresistible mixture of sociopath and southern gent. “We do not want to rob workingmen or ladies,” declared the tall, handsome, finely dressed and feral-eyed outlaw to the stunned passengers on the express, “but the money and valuables of the plug-hat gentlemen are what we seek.” 

Stunned not just at being held up at gunpoint, but that the gun in their face should belong to the famous Jesse James. As the celebrity outlaw walked down the passenger car, playfully exchanging hats with members of his captive audience, his elder brother Frank recited his favourite author, William Shakespeare, while their bandit buddies busied themselves unburdening the male passengers of their cash and valuables. When one man introduced himself as a minister, they promptly returned his money and asked him to pray for them, like the good Baptist boys they were. Likewise, after pocketing the conductor’s gold watch they returned it sheepishly when the baggage master protested: “For God’s sake, you won’t take it for it is a present.”

After courteously shaking the hand of the engineer and cheekily advising him always to stop at a red flag, the bandits departed on their horses in a cloud of dust and rebel yells. The crew then discovered the final and possibly most important act of the Jesse James Show: a prepared press release left behind with instructions that it be telegraphed to the St Louis Dispatch, a sympathetic Confederate-Democratic newspaper. “The most daring robbery on record!” it began modestly. 

“The south bound train on the Iron Mountain railroad was robbed here this morning by five heavily armed men and robbed of dollars — There is a hell of excitement in this part of the country.” 

The figure to be filled in the blank space would amount to $2,000 – not a vast sum of money, even back then, especially when divided five ways. However, as was often the case with Jesse’s performances, the hold-up was a priceless public relations coup.

Jesse and Frank were sons of a pro-slavery Baptist preacher who died in 1850 in the California Gold Rush when Jesse was just three, and a fiercely patriotic and dominating Southern mother, Zerelda, whom everyone seems to describe as “formidable”. Both brothers fought in the Civil War (1861- 1865), Jesse joining up at the stripling age of 16, serving with some of the most brutal and successful Confederate guerrillas, or “bushwhackers”. They conducted a war of annihilation against Unionists in Missouri, casually but systematically murdering their Federalist neighbours and freed or runaway blacks.

Missouri was a border state, and hence nowhere was the American Civil War more “civil” – that is to say, terrible. In the war of secession, civilisation lost to its malcontents and Jesse emerged a leader of these: despite the chivalry – and showbiz – of hold-ups like the one at Gads Hill, Pinkerton’s cold assessment of James was on the money.

As TJ Stiles’s Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War , billed as “the first major study of Jesse James in 40 years”, shows, James was both the product of this cataclysmic struggle and its legacy: after the South surrendered at Appomattox, ex-guerrilla banditry became a symbol of Confederate resistance to Reconstruction and the Radical money-men’s plans for emancipation in the South, as well as a political instrument of the Confederate wing of the Democratic Party. Without popular and political support, James’s criminal career would have been cut short much sooner; in fact he was only brought to account  – a fellow bandit assassinated him to collect on the $20,000 reward posted by the railroads – long after his popular support and political usefulness had receded.

Stiles argues James was neither a Robin Hood (he didn’t always rob from the rich and certainly did not give to the poor), nor a Wild West figure (he was politically motivated), but instead a proto-terrorist: 

“a transitional figure standing between the past and the industrial, violent, media-savvy future, representing the worst aspects of both”. 

While this may be a convincing argument, it perhaps mistakes what a Robin Hood or an outlaw – or, for that matter, a terrorist – is. Mr. Hood was popular not because he actually stole from the rich and gave to the poor: rather, his popularity was expressed and excused in the myth of his stealing from the rich and giving to the poor; that is, the fantasy of him stealing and killing on our behalf

Sure, Jesse James became a political symbol of resistance to Reconstruction, but more profoundly he also became a symbol, as all outlaws do, of resistance to civilisation and its repressions. The political resonance legitimised the enjoyment of his psychopathic freedom, at least to Confederates. Perhaps this is why his reputation of Southern courtliness was so important: courtesy and wisecracking from a man with a gun in his hand is perhaps the greatest expression of freedom, terror and, to ‘noble’ superiority.

Ironically, Jesse himself was anything but free. It was his ability to recognize and play the role assigned to him by society, history and family which guaranteed his lasting fame. Like other famous Good Bad Boy rebels that were to follow in his footsteps, from Elvis to Eminem, it was his momma he had to thank for that showbiz talent. The strength of Jesse’s narcissistic mother-son bond can be estimated by the fact that the woman he married was his first cousin and named “Zerelda” after his mother. As the Kansas City Times wrote of the original “Zee”: 

“She is a woman of great dramatic power. The James family are nothing unless dramatic or tragic.”

Marine Breathing Exercises

A heart-warming clip of US Marines entertaining themselves aboard ship with a lucky pink jelly dildo has been doing the rounds on social media.

It appears to depict a deepthroating competition. One won, judging by the ecstatic response of his watching – and videoing – buddies, by a shirtless tached young jarhead, when he swallows the penis-shaped toy, attached by its sucker to a mirror on the mess bulkhead, to the silicone balls.

Here it is on Twitter – 16.9 million views and counting:

The banana curiousness I wrote about a decade ago looks like it has gone way beyond curious – and been shopping online for some proper gear.

Which is a good thing from a Health & Safety perspective. Bananas may be ever-so temptingly phallic, as well as nutritious, cheap, and widely available, but they have a nasty habit of breaking up in your windpipe. A quality sex toy won’t do that – no matter how greedily you throat it.

Although I have no idea about the sexuality of the Marine deepthroat champ in the clip, this is probably yet another manifestation of the shits, giggles, bondings, and possible arousals that bored mostly straight military men get from ‘acting gay’ on and off camera. But gagging here instead of Gaga.

A subject I so very selflessly researched myself some years back. Of many moments to cherish, I shall always remember especially fondly the way the paratroopers earnestly enquired as to which of them sucked my “uncut English cock” best.

Speaking of which, I would like to brag that, based on this clip, US paratroopers have way better technique. Those jarheads are far too excited and breathless over a disappeared seven inch (max) dildo. 

Bless them.

How Marine mores change! ‘Rolf’, a seasoned veteran of the Californian gay porn industry who, in the 1960s and 1970s, facilitated introductions between comely Camp Pendleton jarheads and moneyed male Beverly Hills types (a subject he wrote about for Steve Zeeland’s Military Trade), told me by email:

That deep-throating antic might reveal the current Marine generation’s change in attitude toward the serious business of cock-sucking. I note that Steve Zeeland’s books captured echoes of a far older Marine generation’s scorn – scorn for what was doubly taboo. First, to take the role of fellator in cock-sucking was to reveal oneself either as a faggot or a sailor. By contrast, Marines were supposed to confine themselves to the ‘manly’ act of buggery. 

But in the late-1990s – as you so vividly know – Dink Flamingo showed us that some U.S. paratroopers not only sucked cock but did so on camera, with obvious pride in their skills. And, with his hasty relocation to San Diego in the early 2000s, Dink showed us that a new generation of Marines seemed just as willing as the paratroopers. The old taboo had disappeared.

You’ll certainly have noticed that not a single Marine among the observers is frowning in disgust or disapproval. Instead, all the faces beam a mixture of amazement and absolute joy, like watching a member of one’s own FC score the most unexpected of goals. It’s a revelation.

To which I replied:  

I do remember the quaint Marine taboo on faggoty fellatio – in contrast to the manly business of being buggered. Then there’s also the currency of the insult ‘cocksucker’ in the US – an insult that, like ‘motherfucker’ but more so, has always fascinated me with its positively pornographic detail. We don’t have an equivalent in the UK – except perhaps ‘wanker’, but it’s milder, less descriptive, and anyway describes all men.

What happened, in addition to the decline in sexual taboos in general, was probably porn – which also contributed heavily to the decline in sexual taboos. Straight porn sold cocksucking to straight men.

Perhaps it didn’t need much selling, but as you know, cocksucking is a very important staple of straight porn: essentially the beginning and the end of heterosexual coitus.

Passive Duty: Gay 4 Pay Paratroopers Probed

Mark Simpson bravely gets to the bottom of the US Army’s gay porn scandal

(Uncircumcised, uncensored version of exclusive which appeared in Details, April 2006 )

.

“Is this your first time with a guy?” asks Jason solicitously in his Tennessee burr.

“Erm… no,” I stutter, “not exactly…”.

It’s an odd question for me to be asked by a straight paratrooper who is trying to fluff me. But then, this is a rather odd situation.

I am on a bed wedged between not one but two naked fit cute, and ostensibly straight American soldiers in their early twenties, “Jason” and “Carl” who are being very friendly indeed. On camera. And they’re much more ‘up’ for this than I am.

“I’m sorry about this lads” I say, gesturing to my semi, “I’m a bit nervous”.

“You mean it gets bigger dude?” asks Jason, with a forgiving wink and a smile, proving, to my mind at least, that he most definitely isn’t gay.

Then again, this is my first time. It’s my first time in porn, my first time with two paratroopers, straight or otherwise. And the really odd thing is that these guys who have had little or no exposure to the tired codes of gay porn are making it feel, in their joshing, horsing around, try-anything, decidedly non-jaded way, like my first time with a guy.

How did I get here?

***

Long before the Department of Defense and the global media took an interest earlier this year the ‘art’ films of Dennis Ashe alias ‘Dink Flamingo’ at ActiveDuty.com had become a phenomenon amongst the self-abusing cognoscenti. With ‘stirring’ titles such as ‘Battle Buddies’, ‘Tour of Duty’, ‘Rear March’ and ‘Band of Lovers’, not only do they offer the online voyeur athletic young military guys with military tattoos and military demeanour who actually look the part, but, manfully, they frequently do everything. No ‘tops and bottoms’ sissy role-play for them. The guys in ActiveDuty are videos are impressively versatile, frequently taking on almost any challenge. What’s more, they usually do it with cheeky grins and gosh-darn dude-ness. (Though sometimes it does look more like an endurance test or another assault course than intercourse.)

And, contrary to much of the coverage the story received, they’re not ‘gays in the military’; many if not most of them are straight-identified, some with wives and kids. They’re ‘gay for pay’, even if they look like they’re mostly enjoying a play.

If they’re faking their enthusiasm, they’re doing a much better job than, say, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain: they take it like real troopers; not Hollywood cowboys. There’s a curious blend of innocence and corruption, and genuine excitement to Dink’s deliberately amateurish films. The guys seem to be getting off on the sheer naughtiness of what they’re doing. After all, it’s contrary to both the etiquette of their official sexuality and the Pentagon’s Matronly sex-policing which decrees no sodomy, no adultery, no prostitutes, no porn (so what’s the fucking point of joining the army, dude?). And they get to be that most modern of celebrities, a porn star – rather than just wear the T-shirt.

Somehow I managed to convince myself that this story of straight military men ‘acting gay’ in the form of mansex rather than manicures was something that I, the ‘father’ of the metrosexual and over-keen follower of masculine trends really needed to research. Personally.

So in 2004, with a commission from Salon.com and an introduction from mutual friend and co-author Steve Zeeland (we published a book of salty correspondence called ‘The Queen is Dead‘), I flew to North Carolina to meet Dink, the man behind ActiveDuty and also the director and cameraman who you never see – though you might occasionally glimpse his helping hand – but you always, always hear. Sex-rapping constantly in his tobacco-rich Southern drawl: “I’ll re-spect your boun-dar-ies… would you like some more lube?’ is one of his favourite lines. Usually followed not long after by: “Arch your back, bitch!”.

Picking me up from the airport, the faceless Svengali of military porn turns out to be a short, very stoutly built, affable and charismatic chap in his thirties, with an infectious chuckle-giggle that starts off low but can go mighty high. He’s not exactly what a modern homosexual is supposed to be: “I’m a queen, not a ‘gay man'” he informs me defiantly. But he’s had his revenge. Not only in the form of all the buff military boys he can eat, but also in living the American Dream super-sized. Much of Dink’s childhood was spent in penury but the car he has driven out to meet me in at the airport today is a latest Jaguar convertible – one of several luxury cars in his fleet. He has only been in the military porn business since c.1996, but has been very, very successful, blowing some of his much longer-established competitors out of the water.

Driving back to ‘Camp Flamingo’, the flashing neon signs of churches and strip joints sliding past, Dink tells me how, growing up in a military town and attracted to men, in his late teens and early twenties he began picking up horny military guys – “lots and lots of them!” – in topless dancing bars and adult video arcades. He began filming them for his own pleasure, and theirs – “military guys like to be admired’. Then some friends suggested that there might be a market for these films. “And boy, was there!” But, businessman that he certainly is, Dink isn’t just in this for the money. “This is my job – but, Mark, I LOVE my job! I also love my boys – I feel very mat-ternal towards them. Many of them become good buddies and call me up asking for advice. I cook big Thanksgivings dinners for the guys.” 

We pass a particularly ramshackle strip-joint with a sign promising ‘DINNING & DANCING’. “I guess not a lot of dinning goes on there!” chuckles Dink.

Arriving at his house, a sprawling 1960s suburban pile, he tells me a couple of paratroopers are coming over this evening for a shoot. “It’s meant to be a double jerk-off video,” says Dink, “but I think I can turn it into suck and fuck film”. Truth be told, it’s almost certainly a suck-and-fuck film already, but Dink is very good at selling you the narrative of corruption-seduction.

And if he sounds a little blasé about all this, that’s because he is. He claims there are literally too many volunteers for duty on the sodomy front for him to film, even though he films almost every night. He estimates that in total he has filmed “hundreds” of guys. “About 95% of them are straight. And you know what? The straight guys almost always perform better – I guess because they’re not so worried whether the guy they’re with is their ‘type’ or not,” he cackles, only slightly bitterly.

If you wonder how a straight-identified military male could do gay porn consider this: Dink, who has few competitors in Fayetteville, gay or straight, pays his stars the full market rate for gay porn modelling – several hundred dollars (several times the going rate for male models in straight porn). The average paratrooper at Fort Bragg makes between $1,200 and $1,700 a month. So a couple of hours at Camp Flamingo could earn them the equivalent of nearly a month’s pay from Uncle Sam.

In fact, gay porn is often made by models who are not gay. Ex-USMC and veteran porn star Rod Barry, who considered himself straight for many years but who now just considers himself “just sexual”, told me that most of the guys in the adult video industry are straight-identified and many prefer to bottom – “It’s easier. You don’t have to get an erection on camera. Plus, if you ask me, there’s something wrong with a guy that doesn’t like something up his ass.” And as an exclusive top, I couldn’t agree more.

On the other hand, many of these boys are from conservative rural and religious backgrounds where homosexuality is. at the very least, frowned on. Might not this be, I suggest to Dink, a way for them to express their same-sex interest? Dink acknowledges that most of his models are probably ‘curious’ but insists they would likely never go looking for sex with a guy and that, ironically, being paid to appear as actors in a porn film is for them a way to explore that curiosity without necessarily having to own it. “Sometimes I get guys calling me up saying ‘Dink, I want to make another movie’ and you think that it’s not just because they need the money – it’s because they want the experience again.”

But a paratrooper allowing himself to be filmed have sex – clearly, identifiably, contravening the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which bans appearing in porn – seems like a particularly dangerous way to experiment? Dink is very familiar with the UCMJ, but says he’s determined to protect ‘his boys’ as much as he can – or as much as someone filming them having sex and putting it online can. He points out that he was always careful not to mention the Army, or paratroopers, or Fort Bragg on his site. Nor would he allow illegal drugs in his house. And despite the years he’s been in business and the “hundreds” of military men he’s filmed, there has been (until 2006) very little trouble.

“In 2000 A couple of OSI [Office of Special Investigations] guys did come round once,” he told me. “They tried to push their way into the house. I slammed the door in their faces: ‘What do you want? You know you have no jurisdiction here. I’m a civilian.’ They wanted me to show them the model release form for this guy they wanted to kick out. I told them to get lost. They kept hammering on the door. So I grabbed a cane, opened the door and charged them, shouting ‘GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!’ They ran like the wind.”

Imagining Dink in full-frontal cane-wielding mode, I don’t blame them. The investigation fizzled out, apparently without any courts martials or discharges.

“The boys should be here any minute,’ says Dink. Adding, in a precisely-calculated casual style, “would you like to sit in on this shoot as an observer?”

Oh yes, I would, actually.

How does he solicit his talent? “Well, mostly word of mouth now. But in the good ol’ days I would go up to them wherever I found them, including Wal-Mart, and say, ‘have you ever thought about modelling? You have a wonderful face,’ and hand them my card”.

Would they have to be alone? “Nope. Often I go for the best-looking one in a group. They’re usually the leader and if you get him then the others come along too. Plus, you’re flattering a guy by approaching him in front of his buddies and telling him how good-looking he is.”

“You know what it’s called, honey chile?” he purrs, slipping out of his low, business-like voice into his somewhat higher Mae West-meets-Truman Capote – while cupping his man-breasts. “Hmm? I’ll tell you what it’s called! It’s called LACK!… OF!… SENSE!”

I meekly suggest that to many people it might seems a very, ahem, brave thing to do, approaching a trained killer like that in broad supermarket-light, often in front of his buddies. “It’s not brave,” counters Dink. “You know what it’s called, honey chile?” he purrs, slipping out of his low, business-like voice into his somewhat higher Mae West-meets-Truman Capote – while cupping his man-breasts. “Hmm? I’ll tell you what it’s called! It’s called LACK!… OF!… SENSE!”

Speaking of which, what about this interview? “Well, I’m sure it will be fine Mark, so long as you don’t mention the town or which base the guys are from or that they are paratroopers. Nobody wants to claim a problem like me unless they’re forced to, you know what I mean?”

‘Jason’ and ‘Carl’, our stars for the night, arrive. Easygoing Southern country boys, in their early twenties, both sport lean, rangy bodies in standard-issue jeans, t-shirts and ball caps – these buddies could be shooting the shit in a pool room or over a pick-up truck. They’re ordinary young American military guys – except that both have both done a porno for Dink before. Last week Jason did a ‘solo’ flick, in which he jerked off to orgasm – while pushing an impressively large dildo up his butt. Apparently this was a few days after his wife had given birth. Perhaps it was his way of sharing the experience – or perhaps it was just a way of helping to pay for it.

Jason is dark and hairy, butch, rambunctious and loud. Carl is quieter, smoother and slightly buck-toothed, a not entirely unattractive flaw. Jason banters with Carl, teasing him, “Your asshole is gonna get torn up bad tonight, dude!” Carl laughs, flicks some ash off his Marlboro, and replies, poker-faced “Nope. I don’t think so. It’s yours that is gonna get reamed!” Then he adds, laughing, “Man, I’m not leaving this house gay tonight!” 

Dink makes sure the models are well supplied with Budweiser and viagra, then swiftly sets up lights and a camera, encouraging them to banter more, knowing how much his large and loyal audience appreciates this almost as much as the action. (If their straight boy banter is an act, it’s an extremely convincing one to this cynical homo.)

After his verbal fluffing, Dink tells the models, who are now lazily propped up against the headboard, to start playing with each other, which they do, giggling a little, glancing repeatedly at the straight DVD porn discreetly playing off-camera on a TV by the bed. Then he orders them to ‘start sucking’. Jason warns buck-toothed Carl: “Dude – no teeth, OK?” Then Dink, who perhaps has not entirely abandoned the idea of Carl relinquishing his bubble-butt cherry that evening, directs Jason to ‘rim’ Carl. Jason in his boisterous way decides to improve on this: he stands on the bed, makes Carl do a handstand, then grabs his legs from behind and unflinchingly, heroically follows orders.

***

The word “freedom” appears frequently in street signs in Fayetteville: ‘Freedom Furniture and Electronics’ and ‘Freedom Paintball’ are just two such I noticed during my return to the city two years later last March shortly after the scandal broke: ‘Seven U.S. soldiers from an elite Airborne division have been charged with “knowingly engaging in sex for money on a public Web site”,’ reported CNN. The men were from Fort Bragg and the website was ActiveDuty.com.

But then, much of Fayetteville is not so much a town as a benign growth on Fort Bragg, one of the largest military bases in the world. Clearly it’s a patriotic town that wants to show support to its Boys, as well as relieve them of their bucks. But there is a slightly camouflaged irony here. After all, Fayetteville is a military town and the US military, though it may see its mission as defending freedom will prosecute its indentured servants for Puritanical crimes that are largely a thing of the past in the country it serves: such as “adultery”, “sodomy” – or being taped while having sex. (Do any civilian Americans have sex nowadays without being taped?)

Those are the charges officially handed down in February to seven young soldiers after an Army investigation established that they had appeared in gay porn. These weren’t just any soldiers however, but elite paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne, “America’s Honor Guard”, one of the most heralded units in the military. Four soldiers were given the maximum “non-judicial punishments”: demoted to Private, confined to base for 45 days, given 45 days of extra duty and forced to forfeit half their salaries for two months. They also face discharge. Three others have been named and “shamed” and charged with “pandering”, “sodomy” and “wrongfully engaging in sexual acts with another person while being filmed with the intent of broadcasting the images over the Internet for money.” One has also been charged with “adultery”.

Altogether, the charges for doing gay porn in the US military add up to a potential if unlikely 16 years incarceration [in the event all three plea-bargained and were sentenced to three months]. Followed by dishonourable discharge. Compare the treatment of these young enlisted men, some of whom were veterans of Bush’s (illegal and immoral to many) ‘adventure’ in Iraq, for what they did with their own bodies in their own time out of uniform with, say, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jnr, the man who killed an Iraqi general during interrogation/torture in uniform – no jail-time, no discharge, no demotion, just a $6000 fine.

‘Free’ Fayetteville is not what you’d call conventionally pretty. It’s too… butch for that. Just one road of several leading to the giant base has 35 barber’s shops along it. Bars, strip joints, and ‘military pawn shops’ abound, testament to the day-by-day, night-by-night lives of many military men and their families – and why some extra cash is always tempting. Why not pawn your body? After all, isn’t that what you do when you sign up?

And what bodies! Fayetteville’s soldiers can be painfully, winsomely, devastatingly beautiful. Driving their pick-up trucks and cruising the strip malls in tank-tops and shorts, these young, usually country boys, whose smooth, muscular, tattooed bodies are the instruments of Bush’s foreign policy – and frequently have to pay a very personal, very physical price for it – display a not-so innocent all-American beauty that would steam even Bruce Weber’s lens. Writer and military male admirer Steve Zeeland, a Walt Whitman for our times, describes them perfectly in this passage about young Marines appearing in gay videoporn in the early Nineties at the centre of another scandal:

‘They display a touching abashment, a cocksure bravado, unexpected grace, a blond-trash coarseness, and the desperate horniness of rutting beasts.’ ‘Sometimes,’ he adds, ‘all in the same sequence.’

Military guys and gay porn have a long history. There have been several “gay porn scandals” involving the US military before [see sidebar]. Previous scandals, which were only the tip of the military gay porn iceberg, have generally resulted in non-judicial punishments and a few token, quiet, rushed dismissals that generated minimum publicity. Fully-fledged courts-martials are unusual, not to say reckless, for this kind of offence.

This, however, is the first scandal in wartime – unpopular wartime, when recruitment levels are falling ever shorter. No doubt in the eyes of the Pentagon this scandal makes a poor recruiting ad. Arguably though, it is the unnecessarily harsh scapegoating of these young guys, men who have already risked life and limb for their country, for some consensual, cash-lubricated x-rated horseplay that is the really poor recruiting ad.

Perhaps that other US Army ‘gay porn’ scandal, Abu Ghraib, has something to do with it. After all, these are not images of simulated acts of sodomy but real ones; they’re not coerced but (mostly) enthusiastic; they’re not performed by Iraqi detainees but US soldiers. Meanwhile, at Guantanamo, gay porn has reportedly been used as a torture technique by US military interrogators. As has been pointed out elsewhere, it is not entirely impossible that detainees might have been inadvertently tortured by gay porn featuring US paratroopers. Just one of the surreal paradoxes of the military world which makes you wonder whether gay S/M leather clubs are derivative parodies of masculinity or in fact the original template.

At least the crackdown had not been prompted by my work. After returning home to the UK and delivering my copy my editor at Salon insisted, amongst other things, that Dink ‘prove’ that his guys were ‘really military’. Dink, funnily enough, wasn’t keen on faxing his guys’ military IDs to a New York online magazine and the piece was spiked. According to a source, the real problem was that my editor, who was gay himself but a little uptight, appeared to have been scandalised by the explicitness of my piece and the way I personally, as you will see, ‘crossed the line’. (It was to be the last piece Salon commissioned from me.)

So I filed the article away in a drawer and forget about it. Then two years later, with all those headlines about US PARATROOPERS IN GAY PORN SCANDAL the story had, in a sense, come after me. So did that editor at Salon – who had the impressive gall to email me out of the blue asking if I would agree to “talk to a reporter we’ve assigned to the story.” I demurred and explained that now that the Department of Defense had proved to Salon’s satisfaction that Dink’s models were military after all, I’d be taking my story elsewhere. Somewhere that actually had some money. So with a commission from Conde Nast-owned Details magazine, I returned to Fayetteville to gauge the reaction from soldiers and citizens there to the scandal.

Predictably, it’s hard for some people to understand. “All this gay stuff is something that someone from my generation just doesn’t get,” explains a retired, middle-aged ex-army NCO running a sports supplement shop in town. “To me it’s another sign that this younger generation just aren’t as disciplined. Back in my day we would never have done something that disgraced our uniform like that.”

But most other people in Fayetteville I spoke to were not terribly concerned – or surprised. Many mentioned reports by returning vets of homosexuality among frustrated male soldiers serving in Iraq, where there are almost no women and strict rules against alcohol and pornographic materials. Military divorce rates have skyrocketed with long-term overseas deployments. Perhaps this is the real ‘Brokeback’ story: lonely bored young American soldiers, not cowboys, sharing tents in the middle of nowhere, wondering if they’re going to die tomorrow or merely lose all their limbs, and whether anyone will care.

Two friendly early-twenties military best buddies from Oregon, drinking in a Country and Western Bar, killing time before their third tour of duty in Iraq, told me that they had both been divorced by their wives during their last tour. “Neither of us wanted to go back to living on base so we rented a house together”. It sounds like the perfect marriage, I tease. They look at one another and laugh, but don’t disagree – or smack me on the chin. Times are changing.

Unsurprisingly, none of the military guys I spoke to would talk on the record about Fort Bragg’s gay porn scandal. One did volunteer it made him “want to barf”, but most seemed largely uninterested and much more concerned with pay, with the war, and most of all with a sense of not being valued enough by either the military or the public. Of course, being paid money to take your clothes off and be filmed having sex is one way to feel valued – and more than one soldier told me that they might have considered it themselves: “for the right price.”

“A friend of mine, a waitress, recognised one of the guys on the website,” recalls April. “He was, like, sucking two cocks. She asked him ‘How could you do that?!’ ‘It was no big deal,’ he replied, matter of factly. ‘And besides, I got paid.'”

For his part, a young gay chap living near Fort Bragg told me: “Most of my buddies are military and they don’t give a shit about me being gay or this so-called scandal. But then,” he added, laughing, “I’m blowing half of them.”

“Fayetteville is not such a strait-laced town as you might think,” explains April, a friendly twenty-something manager of an adult bookstore and video arcade near the gates of Fort Bragg – one of Dink’s old stalking grounds, which, perhaps uniquely in the whole of Fayetteville, features a display of ActiveDuty titles. Under glass. Retailing at $60 a pop.

“For a start, people here are from all over. I’m from New England, but dated a military guy and ended up here. Yeah, the military has old-fashioned regulations, but the boys – well, at lot of them are wild. They’re always getting into trouble: drugs, prostitutes, DUI, rights, you name it. So when you’re living in a military town you have to take a pragmatic view of things. Boys will be boys.”

And do boys? “Yeah, that too! A soldier was telling me how in Iraq they’re living around one another 24-7, they shower together, sleep together for months on end. He told me that you start thinking about stuff after a while.”

Homosociality is sometimes only a dropped-bar of Dial soap away from homosexuality. Witness the convincingly simulated gay gang-bang ‘field fuck’ scene in the movie Jarhead – very ActiveDuty. I put it to April that maybe gay porn isn’t such a big deal to some soldiers because soldiers aren’t so squeamish, so… pussy about dick as civilians. After all, their bodies are already weaponized. “Well yeah,” she says, “they jump out of planes, for god sakes!”. 

If masculinity – and joining the military – can be a form of showing off, so I guess is doing gay porn videos.

“I majored in Human Sexuality” says April, “but I’ve learnt a lot more in this place – including that a lot of straight guys have an interest in guy-on-guy stuff. Yeah, they’re usually terrified of admitting it – whereas women together, well, that’s just fine. But I think that’s changing – I think the ‘metrosexual’ stuff is the beginning of that.”

Ah yes, that word again. April is probably right though – even young soldiers, even men whose bodies are ‘weaponised’, have also been immersed in media images of male desirability since birth and, judging by the gym-honed muscles, designer tattoos and fashionable casual wear I’ve seen pimping around Fayetteville, desire to be desired as much as the next metro-guy. As Dink used to whisper in their ear: Have you ever considered modeling?

“A friend of mine, a waitress, recognised one of the guys on the website,” recalls April. “He was, like, sucking two cocks. She asked him ‘How could you do that?!’ ‘It was no big deal,’ he replied, matter of factly. ‘And besides, I got paid.'”

At the centre of this globally-reported scandal, and yet still somehow remaining off-stage ‘somewhere in North Carolina’ and not wishing to aggravate the situation further, is the man I met two years before, Dink Flamingo. The director-cameraman who took the young military men he found in video arcades like April’s and turned them into porn stars, showcasing them in the big video arcade in the sky known as the internet, wouldn’t talk to me on the record on my return trip. Although he did assure me that neither of the models I met were involved in the scandal and were already out of the Army by the time it hit. 

TV reporters had been leaning on his doorbell for weeks but he had refused to speak to any member of the press. He obviously didn’t want to draw any more attention to himself in such a small town, but he also seemed to have a genuine desire not to make things worse for ‘his boys’ facing courts-martial and jail-time.

Two years ago though he wouldn’t shut up. Dink is a very talkative, very persuasive man. But, like the military, Dink knows that where guys are concerned the most persuasive thing of all isn’t chatter, or money or flattery but camaraderie. As I experienced first hand during the porn shoot I was supposed to be just ’sitting in’ on….

***

As I sat on the sofa, watching Jason and Carl perform while I hid behind my notebook, Dink started suggesting, first in jokey fashion, then more seriously, that I join in. “Just for ten minutes or so. It would be great for your story…”.

I tried laughing it off: “Oh I couldn’t, I’m English after all.” But soon the guys started egging me on too.

“C’mon man,” implored Jason, like he was inviting you to arm-wrestle or a drinking competition, “Show us your uncut English cock!”

And almost before you could say, “God save the Queen” I was stripping down to my foreskin.

Now, some cynics might suggest that I did this because I was somehow unprofessionally aroused by the prospect of joining two fit naked young paratroopers in bed. But, alas, on this occasion they’d be wrong. I wasn’t horny, I was terrified. That’s the nature of a dare, however. To not join in would have felt… unmanly. (Though I had a strong suspicion that the guys had been coached beforehand in just how to entrap me).

Besides, Dink was right: it would make for a better, more ‘interactive’ story than simply observing from behind the lines. (Even if it turned out to be too good a story for Salon.)

“This is very brave of you, Mark,” Dink had purred at me as I climbed onto the bed.

“It’s not bravery,” I retorted. “You know what it’s called? It’s called LACK!…OF!…SENSE!”

So the three of us went through most of the gay porn ‘foreplay’ repertoire in almost every queer Rubik’s Cube possibility. But it felt more like horseplay than gay sex. Actually, if felt too friendly to be gay sex. (Even Jason’s deep-throated implorations to, “Yeah, fuck my bitch-ass good!!” seemed to emanate from a different place than, say, Falcon videopacs.) 

Though I was still terrified. I had at one point to go to the bathroom to try and furiously fluff myself. When it came to the money shots we all took forever to hit the jackpot, individually – and had to close our eyes and go to our own happy place, Carl covering his face with his hat. Ultimately, even in sex movies, sex is a very private thing. They always edit that part out of porn – not least because it would otherwise make them twice as long, and much too realistic. Even the ‘reality’ type of porn that Dink specialises in is of course not real. It’s showjiz.

After I’d bonded with my co-stars – and towelled off – Jason asked me earnestly: “So tell me man, who was the best at sucking dick, Carl or me?”

“Well, er, I don’t want to hurt any feelings…” I mumbled. “But that would be you, Jason.”

Jason turned to Carl, punched him in the shoulder and crowed, “I told you, dude! I told you I suck dick better than you!”

Carl didn’t seem to be arguing the point.

***

There’s Something About a Man in Uniform: a brief history of military porn scandals, by Rolf Hardesty

1977 — The Brentwood Scandal: The enterprising little Brentwood Studio, famous for its stable of the most gorgeous of models in that era’s porn (most of whom were active-duty Marines), ceased operation soon after the FBI came to call. The owner joined the San Francisco-based “Falcon Studios”. (The early numbers in Falcon’s DVD catalog feature much of the old Brentwood material.)

1985The Kly-Max Studio Scandal: The owner of this tiny studio filmed the self-pleasuring of active-duty Marines, in his Oceanside apartment. Like Travis, he panicked when the FBI came calling, folded his studio, and moved out of state.

1994The Bobby of Oceanside Scandal, and The Seabag Scandal: Feisty Filipino Bobby employed a sharp attorney when he began filming active-duty Marines (c.1990) who assured him the Corps had no jurisdiction over him and that the FBI couldn’t charge him with anything if he wasn’t “transporting persons across a state line for immoral purposes”. So Bobby — who appeared in virtually all his videos, interacting with solitary Marines as insertee – simply refused to run and hide, after Oceanside’s weekly newspaper exposed his operation. He’s even rumoured to be still in business. Around the same time, a local TV station in San Diego started a campaign against the “Seabag” military-themed gay porn studio operated by Rick Ford. But, like Bobby, Ford refused to close down.

2000 — The Twentynine Palms/MarineMeat.com Scandal: Amateur wanking videos, shot in a high-desert motel room by Dan Devlin.  After some dozen or more sessions, the Corps came calling — whereupon, Dan decamped – literally in the middle of the night. Not for fear of the Corps but it seems for fear of a vengeful assault by the young men whose military careers he’d ruined.

2006 —  The Fort Bragg Scandal: At last, a branch of the Army has achieved its own notoriety, thus breaking the monopoly of the Navy and Marine Corps. ActiveDuty proprietor Dink Flamingo, a former lawyer, remains in business, though relocated.