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Meet the Metrosexual – Twenty Years On

Twenty years ago, my essay ‘Meet the Metrosexual’ was published on the (then) popular online US magazine, introducing my insistently pretty offspring to America. Both the piece and he went virulently viral, starting an outbreak of global metrosexmania that lasted years.

Thousands of media outlets ran items on him. Several books were written about him. The American Dialect Society named him ‘Word of the Year’, handsomely beating SARS. South Park even devoted an episode to him. Such was his all-singing, all-dancing popularity, there was even a backlash against him in the US in the late Noughties.

This wasn’t the first time I had written about the metrosexual – that was back in 1994 in the Independent. But in the No-Homo New Lad 1990s everyone was still in denial about what had happened to men and why they were spending so long in the bathroom.

By the early Noughties, the male desire to be desired would not be ignored any more. So, this time I decided to name names: most particularly, the glamorous British footballer, David Beckham with his clearly insatiable – and still unsatiated to this day – appetite for being looked at.

I also decided to be more explicit with the definition:

The typical metrosexual is a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis – because that’s where all the best shops, clubs, gyms, and hairdressers are. He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference. Particular professions, such as modelling, waiting tables, media, pop music and, nowadays, sport, seem to attract them but, truth be told, like male vanity products and herpes, they’re pretty much everywhere.

Suddenly, people noticed how much time, effort and money so many men were spending on inviting their gaze. And how much they were gazing at them.

I sent the essay on spec to Andrew O’Hehir, the then arts editor at Salon – someone I’d never had any contact with previously. He responded immediately and very affirmatively and ran it without taking out a single one of my dirty jokes and vulgar provocations.

I doubt very much that would happen today. It probably shouldn’t have happened back then.

The advertising department at Salon reportedly expressed deep frustration that they couldn’t properly monetise the number of hits my essay was getting because of the “many mentions of anal sex”.

Story of my life.

I think everyone will agree now though that it was totally on the money about the mainstreaming of ‘straight’ bum fun, what I termed the ‘unholy grail of metrosexual sex’:

Perhaps because it represents the definition of recreational sex and doesn’t remind them of their heterosexual responsibilities but rather of their homosexual possibilities (the exhibitionism of male metrosexuality is literally asking to be fucked), or maybe because it’s seen as a kind of extreme sport, anal sex has become the unholy grail of metrosexual sex.

Whither metrosexuality today? Well, as I’ve elaborated elsewhere, the male desire to be desired has been so totally normalised that it’s, paradoxically, difficult to notice nowadays. Or put the other way around: in a hyper-visual Insta/TikTok culture, if you’re not metrosexual you’re invisible.

By upping the stakes, spornosexuality – second generation, body-centred, self-objectifying, ‘hardcore’ metrosexuality – was in many ways a response to this. But even spornosexuality struggles to be noticed now.

Such is the slutty competition.

Which reminds me, I also got told off back then for writing in the Salon essay that metrosexual poster boy Beckham ‘sucks corporate cock, with no gag reflex’, mentioning the $8 million he received in sponsorship fees for promoting male fashion accessories. Apparently, this was unkind and rude.

Innocent days. Becks, now 47, recently accepted £150 million ($183M) to be ‘the face of Qatar’ during the Football World Cup, held there this autumn. Qatar is a petro-rich Gulf State tyranny with a highly patriarchal culture, where any male homosexuality is illegal.

He claims that it is because he wants to “work from the inside” to change things. Which may be true. But I think it would be extremely difficult for a metrosexual now pushing 50 to say no to £150M for giving good face.

You can read the full original essay here.

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