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

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Glenn Or Glennda?

Last month I spent a stimulating and highly satisfying weekend with Glennda Orgasm.

Or rather, the artiste formerly known as Glennda Orgasm, my old (but forever youthful) pal Glenn Belverio, who wise-cracked and bang-flicked his way to fame in the early 1990s, his svelte frame clad in couture frocks  on a NYC cable TV public access show, asking thoughtful and provocative questions while gripping an unfeasibly large microphone.

Glenn was so YouTube long before YouTube existed.

Glenn pulled the plug on his TV show in 1996, and mothballed Glennda in 1997 – drag was getting far too popular – and turned himself into a fashion writer and author. But not before he and the cheeky Canadian queer filmmaker Bruce LaBruce contributed to Anti-Gay, the ‘incendiary’ 1996 collection of essays by non-heterosexuals critiquing lesgay identity politics I edited. It was a transcript of an asthma-inducingly funny episode of Glennda’s show titled ‘A Case For The Closet’.

By way of thanks (there wasn’t much of a fee) I hosted him in London the same year when he had a Glennda Orgasm retrospective at the ICA. I met him at Heathrow Arrivals with my loud-and-proud MTF friend Michelle  holding a card scrawled in magic marker: ‘MISS ORGASM’.

I still have fond memories of his wig menagerie that took over my living room. It was the beginning of a long friendship, though quite why Glenn even speaks to me when I’m so unkind to him I don’t know

The last time I saw Glenn, more than two years ago in Rome we were surrounded by naked fascist bubble butts. Somehow we survived the ordeal. 

So back to our weekend together. Glenn was visiting the UK last month for the launch of ‘Still I Rise’, an exhibition ‘exploring the role that women have played in the history of resistance movements and alternative forms of living’ pegged to the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the UK at the Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery.

Bravely – and admirably, given an increasingly censorious climate – the exhibition’s organisers had included his hilariously incorrect 1993 caper with the anti-feminist feminist motormouth Ms Paglia at the peak of her global fame and alarming energy. Called Glennda And Camille Do Downtown it memorably features them running into feminist anti-porn protesters picketing an adult book store.

The activists suddenly become very camera shy, moving away and actually hiding behind their placards. Paglia goes 60s streetwise nuclear on the ‘anti sex, anti art, anti-everything’ protestors (flanked by her big black bodyguards):

‘YOU FINALLY HAVE SOMEONE WHO CAN DEAL WITH YOU AND YOU ARE SHRINKING!! YOU PEOPLE ARE WIMPS!!’

Glennda is less confrontational, resorting to humour that even has some of the protestors smiling:

‘A day without porn is like a day without sunshine!’

Needless to say, twenty five years later the anti-porn demonstrators are now running everything. Even Tumblr.

I joined Glenn in Nottingham, the city of Saturday Night, Sunday Morning – tormenting him with my dietary requirements (I can’t eat onion – which is essentially the basic ingredient of all food) and my dyspeptic opinions. Glenn for his part entertained me with his wickedly funny mimicry of mutual friends and spooked me as he always does with his quite monstrous ability to remember everything. He has total, terrifying recall. I really had better stay on the right side of Glenn.

Due to inclement weather, we spent an afternoon in the National Justice Museum, on the site of the former County Gaol. Though I’m sure quite a few people think we should have spent rather longer there than an afternoon. It was fun inspecting the dungeons and the oubliette – every home should have one. But even more fun watching the re-enactment of an 18th Century trial of a lady pickpocket and a public hanging (they have the last working public gallows).

I think part of our fascination was because Glenn and I had little doubt that if we’d been around a couple of hundred years ago this is where we would have ended up.

I liked the way the ‘Still I Rise’ exhibition included resistance and rebellion (something Nottingham has a long history of) as a motif and especially appreciated the 70s-80s poster agitprop section by the See Red Women’s Workshop, some of which was familiar to me from my early 80s Brixton squat days. One poster in particular caught our attention – depicting the drudgery trap of marriage. Glenn and I of course immediately and selfishly reinterpreted it as a Pythonesque satire on the false promises of gay marriage. 

Glenn recorded dozens of shows between 1990-1996 but, criminally, only Glennda And Camille Do Downtown is available online. All the other shows still need to be transferred from video to digital format. Apparently Glenn’s distributor Lux are very keen to undertake that task. Let’s hope they get cracking soon.

Glennda needs to rise again.

You can read Glenn’s write up of his visit, the exhibition and the launch here

Glennda and Camille Do Downtown (featuring Camille Paglia)

Still I Rise: 27 Oct 2018 – 27 Jan 2019, Nottingham Contemporary; 9 Feb – 2 Jun 2019, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea

Slit-Trenches & Eternal Comradeship

Mark Simpson totally relates to the author’s 1970s childhood war-fetish, but has to draw the line at Ernest Hemingway.

(Independent on Sunday, 31 March 2002)

Robert Twigger is a man who wins awards. The jacket of Being a Man… In The Lousy Modern World boasts of the Newdigate Prize for poetry, the Somerset Maugham Award and the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award. Perhaps this because Twigger is very talented, or perhaps it’s just because Twigger is the kind of man who wins awards.

Whatever the answer, despite ringing testimonials on the same jacket from those well-known gatekeepers of masculinity Will Self (‘a tour de force’) and Tony Parsons (‘I urge you to read everything that carries his name’) the one prize which Twigger’s been aiming for all his life – manhood – still eludes him.

Or as Leighton Bailey, Michael Horden’s fabulously starchy boss in the 1956 Rank film The Spanish Gardener says when firing him, ‘It’s as a man you’ve failed’. (As proof, Horden’s son has deserted him for his ‘Spanish’ gardener, Dirk Bogarde – yes Dirk Bogarde. In fake tan.). Of course, nowadays most men are ‘failures’ – but being manly is not now a very smart career move and most men under forty don’t seem to care whether they’ve failed as men or not, just so long as they win in the soft, sybaritic consumerist marketplace.

Mr Twigger however, does. Very much. Which is nice, but the real question is: should we care about Twigger?

Certainly Twigger’s evocatively recounted 1970s lower middle-class childhood is entirely familiar to me and probably millions of others: that odd emphasis on service and sacrifice, stoicism and stiffened upper lips, forever preparing to fight a war that ended thirty years previously. I too was an avid fan of The Colditz Story, The Guns of Navarone, Dambusters, Hotspur, Commando Comics, Victor, Dad’s Army and playing war in abandoned pillboxes. ‘Never mind the seventies,’ Twigger writes, ‘flower power, flared jeans and platform soled shoes; for me and my friends it was all war, war, war.’

Life forever presented itself as a test that might prove you wanting: ‘I never saw a river without imagining someone was drowning in it and waiting to be rescued, a railway track without working out how to save someone who had fallen in front of a moving train…’ Of course, it was a shining, virtuous childhood which laughably failed to prepare Twigger – or me – for the ‘lousy modern world’. Both of us would have been much better off with the platform shoes and flares the street-smart boys on The Estate wore.

If he’d lived in my village, Twigger and I would probably have been blood brothers for a few summers, covering the countryside with slit trenches and promises of eternal comradeship. But I suspect we would have drifted apart eventually, round about the time that I realised he didn’t have much of a sense of humour. Or maybe when he realised that I had a bit of an over developed one.

‘Being a Man’, we’re told, contrasts ‘twenty-four hours of “normality” in Robert Twigger’s suburban existence with half a lifetime of (mis) adventurous living’. In other words, bragging reminisces and whimsy about masculinity woven around a narrative of holding a barbecue and taking his wife to the hospital to have their first child.

Now, I don’t mind a bit of masculine bravado, but the ‘nasty scrapes’ the author has managed to get himself into, how if it hadn’t been for the adrenaline rush he wouldn’t have been able to haul himself back into the boat/onto that mountain ledge/confront that bull in Pamplona (yes, he really did go bullfighting) are, alas, mostly quite tedious. Several times Twigger mentions that his father was down the pub when he was born – but despite the fact that Twigger actually witnesses his son’s birth, with ‘Being a Man’ he somehow manages to be down the pub with the reader of his book, boring them to death with his tales of derring-do.

Twigger’s failure is a failure of self-consciousness, twice over. His masculinity is a failure because he’s always looking for the secret, the code,the instructions (hence a fascination with martial arts); but in a self-reflexive world this is to be forgiven. However his writing here fails because it’s not self-conscious enough; he doesn’t seem to realise how comically self-defeating that literal-mindedness is, or be able to diagnose his own malady, let alone anyone else’s. This is not forgivable, even without the constant invocation of that American granddaddy of twats Hemingway (and the‘lousy’ use of Americanisms throughout the book).

Twigger’s boyish Army obsession continued until he was sixteen; when he realised that the only people who wanted to join the army were either ‘misfits, gay… or teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown.’ Yes, right, OK, but Robert I still don’t know why didn’t you join….

When Twigger finds himself in Mothercare he finds a part of his brain screaming that ‘BUYING NAPPIES IS STRICTLY FOR FAGS!’, an interesting response but one that is not analysed or even commented on. In a particularly risible passage he discusses at great length the story about Papa Doc’s encounter with F. Scott Fitzgerald in which Scotty complained that his dick was too small: Hemingway asked to see it and authoritatively pronounced it ‘normal sized’.

Twigger then advances an agonisingly torturous and entirely unnecessary argument that Hemingway worried about the size of his penis. Is Twigger the last person on Earth to have ‘twigged’ this? What’s clear is that Twigger has worried about the size of his penis – which is nothing to be ashamed of, especially in a book about masculinity – but he doesn’t tell us about it, instead he literally tries to put it in Papa Doc’s mouth. Not a pretty sight.

Speaking of which, in the gay world, afflicted as it is by far too much self-consciousness, there’s a term called ‘straight acting’. It’s supposed to denote ‘non-effeminate’ but unfortunately, unless the practitioner has a sense of humour, it too often merely denotes ‘a pain’. Alas, it would appear that this condition is not to be sexuality-specific. I have another award for the award-winning Mr Twigger: The Ernest Hemingway Award for Straight Acting Heterosexuality.

As Twigger writes himself: ‘What follows may be bollocks, so be warned.’ A commendable and very necessary warning.

Shame it doesn’t appear until page 121.

Spornos Go To War

NATO brings out the big guns. And huge, pumped bazookas.

Spornosexuals (and man buns) have been mobilised in the propaganda war.

The North Atlantic alliance would like you to meet, like, share and follow Lasse Matberg. Model, influencer, ‘modern Viking’ and hench, hot-oiled Lieutenant in the Royal Norwegian Navy. 

To quote the Duke of Wellington, “I don’t know what effect these men will have on the enemy, but by God, they terrify me.”

Back On The Chain Gang

Morrissey appeared this week on The Late, Late Show With James Corden, giving a bravura, if clap-happy, performance of his new single, a cover version of ‘Back On The Chain Gang’.

Originally released in 1982 by The Pretenders, written and sung by the indomitable Chrissie Hynde, I’ve always liked this up-tempo melancholic pop song musing wistfully-angrily on the discovery of ‘a picture of you’ that ‘hijacked my world last night’.

But I hadn’t realised until now how… Smithsian it sounds.

Morrissey: Back on the Chain Gang

So much so, that you think Moz has changed some of the lyrics. But on checking it turns out to be very little, just a pronoun here and there. The most substantial change seems to be:

'In the wretched life of a lonely heart' 

to

'Lonely hearts, lonely hearts'

Morrissey-esque turns of phrase like: 

The phone, the TV and the News of the World 
Got in the house like a pigeon from hell, oh oh oh oh

Or the sun-shines-out-of-our-behinds exhilarating extravagance of:

The powers that be 
That force us to live like we do 
Bring me to my knees 
When I see what they've done to you 
But I'll die as I stand here today 
Knowing that deep in my heart 
They'll fall to ruin one day 
For making us part

Turn out to be pure Hynde. I just hadn’t listened properly before.

But then it’s probably not a coincidence that The Smiths were formed the same year as this catchy-jangly, bitter-sweet, poetic-dramatic pop song was released.

For the next few days only, Saint Morrissey is available on Kindle for just 99 cents/pence.

Shag Night

Mark Simpson probes the twilight world of heterosexual stag parties – with a heavy-duty rubber glove

“They aren’t usually stiff, but sometimes they do surprise you,” says Penny, and then turns to her partner, Sarah. “Remember that one at the rugby club which whipped past my nose when I pulled his pants down and slapped you in the face? That was a bit scary, that was.”

“But,” Sarah confides to me, “usually they’re too frightened or pissed to get them up.”

I’m in the dressing room of a pub in Farnborough, Hampshire with Penny and Sarah, two stag show strippers, whose job it is to make boys into men before their wedding day by getting their tackle out in front of their pals, whipping them, spraying their genitals with shaving foam, and conducting impromptu proctological examinations.

But, you’ll be pleased to hear, no actual sex—no”normal” intercourse—is permitted. You have to draw the line somewhere.

“We’re straight girls,” explains Penny, confusingly. She’s just come offstage and is sitting on a stool in front of me completely starkers. An “irrepressible” brunette, she has been in the business for twenty years.

“We’re not blue,” she insists, “unlike some of the girls, who will do anything. We don’t let them touch our privates, we don’t touch their willies, and we never do ‘extras.’ We use kitchen tongs on them and tie them up, but we never touch them.”

Ah, so that’s what “straight” means. It seems a fair enough distraction to me, but some men, excited at the prospect of seeing their best mate in full penetrative action, feel cheated.

Recalls Penny, “I remember one show where afterwards this geezer came up to me shouting, ‘I thought you was going to get my mate! You didn’t do nothing to ‘im.’ He was so angry that we hadn’t done more blue things to his mate that I really thought he was going to hit me.”

Perhaps you should have asked him why he didn’t do it to his mate himself, if he was so keen?

“That was a bad evening,” muses Penny, sensibly ignoring my remark. “There was a huge fight—a four-ambulance number.”

What are the worst nights?

“Oh, football clubs are usually very bad,” says Penny. “They’re so rude and unhelpful and get very rowdy. So are police clubs—they know they can get away with murder. Rugby clubs are the best. They’re usually very polite—they treat you special; somehow I don’t think they get to meet very many women.”

The compere’s voice introduces Sarah over the PA and she rushes out, blonde hair “up” and clad in the leather bondage kit she’s been struggling into during my conversation with Penny. She’s quite a “stunnah”—and this is underlined by the huge cheer that goes up after she leaves the dressing room. A diplomatic few moments later, I follow her.

The pub is full of drunken men with ruddy faces in Armani jeans and loose-fitting shirts. They’re cheering wildly, but good-humouredly, clinging to their pints protectively as Sarah picks on individuals, teasing them, getting them to play with her breasts. Watching them, I’m struck by how many straight men, even when very drunk, have a tension about their bodies, a determination not to let knees touch, wrists sag, hips swivel. It’s as though they want to convince the world that they have fewer joints than other kinds of human beings.

As Sarah struts her stuff, they laugh and show off to one another. She licks a lollipop with an unorthodox part of her anatomy and pops it in the mouth of one of the blokes sitting in the front row, who eagerly sucks it, looking around proudly, before thoughtfully handing it to his mate who also sucks it and passes it on.

Penny did a similar routine earlier, but instead of a lollipop she just used her fingers. Confectionery did, however, make an appear­ance in another part of her act where she made a couple of punters suck some Polo mints for her. She then stuck them over her nipples and made the men kneel either side of her and suck them off.

Sarah “climaxes” her solo act by spraying shaving foam on her crotch and rubbing a stocky farmhand’s grinning face in it. The lads seem to like this especially, cheering even more loudly.

In the interval, the compere does his homo jokes. “Are there any poofs here tonight?” he asks. Silence. “Well, they say one in four blokes are gay,” (where does he get his statistics?) “so if you are out with three mates and none of them are gay, that means you’re the poof!” Uneasy laughter.

After a few more jokes in this vein, the “straight” girls come onstage together and perform a lesbian duo—no simulation. The men are so rapt that they forget to laugh and crack jokes. This is serious. They look like stray dogs at a butcher’s shop window. If it wasn’t for the backing track, the only sound would be the swallow­ing of Adam’s apples.

Afterward, Sarah is changing out of her bondage kit backstage and telling me how popular their lesbian number is.

“I tell you, we could be rich if we marketed this number proper­ly,” she enthuses. “The guys really go wild for it—they can’t get enough.”

Why do you suppose that is?

“Well, because we don’t simulate it. They can see everything.” But why are lesbian numbers so popular with straight men?

“I don’t know. All I know is that I really enjoy doing it—maybe that’s what they pick up on.”

We’re joined by Rick, the husband-to-be, and his best mate John, both in their early twenties. They have brought the girls some drinks as their backstage pass (they probably have a bet with their mates that they can screw the act). John, who is tall and dark-haired, has organised this stag night for his pal and smokes those horrid little Panatela cigars that young “men of the world” smoke in pubs to impress their mates. Fair-haired and pint-sized, Rick is getting married in two weeks. He’s wearing an L-plate round his neck and he’s as drunk as . . . , well, someone on his stag night.

I ask them what is so exciting about lesbian scenes for straight men. John, the “dominant” one in this duo, looks at me blankly. He’s clearly never thought about this; no one was stupid enough to ask him this question before. At last, he says, “Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?”

No. “Well, it’s because, well . . . ” he trails off. ‘Cos it’s two birds together,” he says exasperatedly. Yes, that’s a working definition of a lesbian act, but what’s the appeal? “I dunno. It’s just exciting.”

Rick appears to have thought about it a bit more. A bit too much, actually.

“It’s like catching your mum in bed with her best friend,” he offers.

Before I can explore the implications of this particularly rich fantasy scenario, Sarah cuts in: “But what about two blokes together? Doesn’t that turn you on?”

The boys look like they’ve been goosed.

“Nah, that’s not a turn-on at all. It’s a total turn-off,” asserts Panatella man.

“Why?” Sarah perseveres.

“Because it is,” he replies, with impeccable masculine logic.

“But I really enjoy doing the lesbian numbers,” says Sarah. “I find that a woman knows best what makes you feel good. It must be the same for blokes. A bloke must know best what you like, since he’s got the same bits and pieces.”

John now looks like someone who ordered egg and chips and got nouvelle cuisine.

“Nah,” he says. “That’s wrong.” Clinching his argument, he adds, “If you’re a bloke you like shagging birds and they like being shagged, so it stands to reason that a woman’s going to know best what you like and a man’s going to know what a woman likes.”

“But I’m a woman,” counters Penny, “and I have a boyfriend, but I enjoy sex with women more. I don’t understand why straight men don’t try it out with one another, I bet they’d really be surprised how much they enjoy it.”

“Yeah,” says little Rick, apropos of nothing and everything. “I went home with a girl and her boyfriend a while ago. But, of course, I said to him, ‘If you fucking touch me, I’ll fucking kill you.'”

The boys, who initially thought I was the strippers’ “minder” and were buying me drinks all night, now know that I’m a journalist and want to know who I am writing for. I tell them. They ask what kind of magazine it is; I tell them. A pause. Both of them are a little thrown, but try to look cool. John is better at this than Rick, who can’t stop himself asking, “What, are you gay yourself?” I toy momentarily with refusing the dreadful little “g” word, but then think better of introducing more queer theory to the discussion than the stripper Sarah has already done, and answer in the affirmative. Rick’s eyes widen.

“But why is it, then,” he asks, with a burning curiosity which betrays years of frustration, “that whenever you see gay men on telly they always have handlebar moustaches and leather caps?” Before I can tell him that he’s a little confused (he’s talking about lesbians not gay men), John realises the conversation is getting out of control and inter­venes.

“I hope you don’t think this is a normal stag night, ‘cos this is seriously twisted,” he half jokes. Before I can ask what is “normal” about stag nights, John is busy trying to persuade the girls to give him their numbers so that he can call them direct, instead of going through their agent, to arrange a “private show” for him and Rick. But I understand.

After all, it’s Rick’s stag night and the stripper they want to shag is trying to persuade them to shag each other and a poof is asking them why they like watching lesbians. I suspect that working out my relationship to Sarah is also doing their heads in. Before they hurriedly leave the dressing room, Rick turns to Sarah, gestures towards me, and asks, “So, do you like the fact that he’s a challenge, or what?”

Now it’s Rick’s big moment. Onstage he is stripped bare by Sarah and Penny. They slap his face with their breasts, lower their crotches on to his face repeatedly, giving new and graphic meaning to the expression “pussy-whipped”; shave his pubes, wank his willy with kitchen tongs, and then tie it up with cord and lead him around the room by it (in symbolic imitation of married life).

Everyone laughs and has a good time, especially Rick, who is such a good sport. Then Sarah makes him bend over, bum to the audience, while Penny draws a smiley face on his buttocks. She lights a cigarette and puts it where the sun doesn’t shine. Everyone laughs. Panatella man laughs. Rick laughs. His dad, standing at the back with a “that’s my boy” beam on his face, laughs. Sarah removes the fag and sprays shaving foam in his bumcrack; Penny puts on an industrial rubber glove and, with a theatrical flourish, cruelly jabs a finger up Rick’s poor abused ringpiece. Rick laughs even more than when he had a fag up his arse. (Well, what else can you do?).

Unfortunately for Rick, sitting as I am at the side of the stage, I’m the only person he can see when he looks up, laughing, to check that everyone else is laughing. Our eyes lock.

This soon-to-be-married lad, this initiate into heterosexual, monogamous, holy wedlock who is losing his bum cherry in front of his mates, happens to catch the eye of the one admitted homo in the room. For a ghastly moment, which seems to last an age, our smiles freeze and our laughter turns hollow.

Then Penny sticks another finger up his poop-chute and we’re all laughing heartily again.

Originally appeared Attitude, August 1995 – collected in It’s a Queer World