marksimpson.com

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

Menu Close

Category: commentary (page 1 of 74)

“Never Before Have I Seen Such A Blatant Display Of Poofery!!”

This month, the Welsh actor Windsor Davies, 88, most famous for playing the very shouty Battery Sgt Major Williams in the now unthinkably un-PC – and apparently unrepeatable – 1970s BBC comedy series Ain’t Half Hot Mum, was summoned to the CO’s office in the sky.

AHHM was written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, the duo behind the other smash hit 1970s hit BBC sitcom Dad’s Army. Croft was also behind Are You Being Served?, thus he and Perry dominated my childhood viewing, making them essentially the architect of my terrible sense of humour.

Set in India in the dying days of both the Second World War and the British Empire, AHHM told the travails of a concert party of misfit men – or ‘boys’ as they refer to themselves in their theme song – that just want to survive the war and have a bit of a giggle amidst the relentless boredom and heat, and put on a show to entertain the men. (Perry was drawing on his own experience: during the war he had served in a Royal Artillery Concert Party in Burma.)

Their old school, barrel-chested, ramrod-backed, racist, homophobic ‘SHUUUUT-TUUUUP!!’ BSM would have scoffed at the new, Mister lah-dee-dah Gunner Graham American Psychological Association guidelines for men and boys. Clearly a fervent believer in the now officially pathologized ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ – though he would just call it ‘backbone’ – he is forever trying, and failing, to turn the ‘effeminate poofs’ in the concert party into ‘proper men’, and save the British Empire from decadence.

A tribute to Battery Sgt Major Williams

Everyone else though – the squaddies they entertain, the local Indians working for the British Army, and especially the pipe-smoking Colonel – love the ‘boys’ of the concert party and their degenerate, painted poofery and can’t wait for post-war, post-imperial dissipation.

There was also a regular hint that this mustachioed scourge of poofdom who sees poofery everywhere has latent ‘omosexual tendencies himself – or is at least ‘guilty’ of behaving like an ‘omo. Williams dotes on Gunner ‘Parky’ Parkin, one of the hunkier (by dismal 1970s standards) young soldiers in the concert party: “Shoulders back, lovely boy, you’ve got a fine pair of shoulders on you. Show ’em orf! Show ’em orf!” He sings his (non-existent) praises to the officers and covers up his failures.

He thinks the lad is his illegitimate son; so he is showing paternal pride and affection for his own virility. But we and the concert party know he isn’t Parky’s daddy, so the joke is he’s unwittingly displaying something else. Freud should have had a writing credit for this sitcom: he saw a father’s love for his son, and the ‘male bonding’ of all-male groups, as a sublimated, socially-acceptable outlet for universal homoerotics.

The BSM also sometimes appears to be wearing eyeliner, though I’m sure this is just a 1970s TV camera pickup issue.

The reason BSM Williams was such a fondly-regarded prime-time act in the 1970s was down to Davies’ great comedic performance (and it was a performance of course – apparently he was a very kind and gentle chap). It wasn’t just about the virtuoso shouting – it was also about those baby blue eyes in silent close-up: so expressive when reacting to/mocking other people’s lines

And because even forty years ago, the bristling Sgt Major represented for most UK viewers under 50 an already outmoded, comically inappropriate imperial masculinity. If one that was still vividly recognisable, especially to a male generation that had, like Davies, done National Service (it ended in 1960)

For anyone under 50 today, probably the most recognisable part is the waxed Edwardian moustache – but only because it’s been recycled on the ironic upper lip of hipsters and Movemberists.

Possibly only one of the concert party ‘poofs’ seems intended to be taken for an actual poof: ‘Gloria’, played by Melvyn Hayes – who was the cross-dressing star of both the concert party and, alongside Davies, the sitcom itself. Yes, judged by today’s standards it was racist and homophobic: I’m sure plenty of 1970s viewers enjoyed seeing the bloody campers getting a beasting from the Sgt Major – I know I did.

But he was the cartoon baddie, and the past. Annoying and ridiculous as they are often presented, the ‘poofs’ were the sympathetic characters, and the present.

And also the future – a future in which ordinary soldiers have become their own concert party ‘poofs’, mincing around on YouTube. 

While many civilians pay good money to be shouted at like that.

It Aint Half Hot Mum – End Credits
Funny Dance – Royal Marines – Call on Me
Be sure to watch all the way to the (happy) ending…

Toxic Hegemonic Masculinity Ideology

‘Toxic masculinity’ may not be terribly appetising, but it does seem to be on everyone’s lips these days.

The concept originally derives from the gender studies theory of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ – described on Wikipedia as the ‘stereotypic notion of masculinity that shapes the socialization and aspirations of young males’.

Although hegemonic masculinity is, as the name suggests, a bad thing in itself, toxic masculinity is, as the name tells you, really bad. It’s the aspects of hegemonic masculinity that ‘serve to maintain men’s dominance over women in Western societies’. Things like ‘the devaluation of women, homophobia and wanton violence’.

Somewhat confusingly however, toxic masculinity theory has itself gone ‘hegemonic’.

Earlier this month the dominant US consumer goods multinational Procter & Gamble (annual revenue $65B) released a hard-hitting new ad for their ailing Gillette razor brand. After decades of gouging their customers and losing market position to new, cheaper ‘shave club’ competitors, they reasserted their supremacy – by ‘calling out’ men’s toxic behaviour.

Though in case you think they were tarring all men with the same stereotypical shaving brush, the ad did allow (at 1:06 mins in) that ‘some’ of them aren’t sexual predators and bullies, or arm-folded, burnt meat-eating enablers. And of course, associating Gillette with those few good guys battling male toxicity.

The ad was a great success – in the sense that it got people ‘talking about the brand’ and its new ‘purpose’. In an age when MSM ‘messaging’ can go entirely unnoticed, this one grabbed loads of editorial like a boss – and, much more importantly, owned people’s timelines.

And here I am, talking about it.

Actually, you’ll be relieved to hear, I don’t want to talk about it much. Everyone already has, at length – some even making good points. The only thing I want to say here about this ad is that regardless of what you think about it, whether you consider it ‘an important message’ or ‘an outrage’ – or refuse to have an opinion on it at all (though I’m not sure this is actually permitted) – it’s somewhat… paradoxical.

And I’m not talking about Gillette’s record of ‘objectification’ of women and exploitation of them with overpriced pink razors.

‘The Best That Man Can Be’ presents itself as an assault on the dominance of toxic masculinity in our culture and its terrible toll. But it is put out by one of the biggest, most powerful multinationals in the world that wants millions of men to buy its products.

If toxic masculinity is so dominant and dominating – along with the patriarchal culture that produces it and protects male power – how does this very expensive ad exist?

OK, I’m being slightly facetious. The reason it exists is because calling out toxic masculinity and ‘male privilege’ (sometimes qualified by ‘white’ but less often by class) has itself become more and more ‘dominant’ in much of the media over the last few years. A process that predated #MeToo but was turbo-charged by it. To the point where it now looks like liberal orthodoxy. Question it at your peril – unless you want to be labelled as ‘part of the problem’.

The week before Gillette went woke, researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Essex released a report that claimed to show that, contrary to previous studies, men are (slightly) more disadvantaged than women in most developed countries. Previous ways of measuring inequality (the Global Gender Gap Index) are ‘biased to highlight women’s issues’, they argued – and don’t distinguish between personal preferences and social inequalities.

‘We’re not saying that women in highly developed countries are not experiencing disadvantages in some aspects of their lives. What we are saying is that an ideal measure of gender equality is not biased to the disadvantages of either gender. Doing so, we find a different picture to the one commonly presented in the media’.


prof Gijsbert Stoet, University of Essex

Perhaps that picture ‘commonly presented in the media’ is why the newsworthy and controversial study was not widely reported in the UK, aside from conservative newspaper The Daily Mail and its sister paper Metro.

And in case you imagine the University of Essex a bastion of those dreaded Men’s Rights Activists, in 2016 it gave female staff a one-off pay rise in order to raise their average salaries to the same as their male counterparts.

The study’s Basic Index of Gender Inequality (BIGI) measures educational opportunities, healthy life expectancy and overall life satisfaction. According to the rankings it produces, the UK, US and Australia all discriminate against men (slightly) more, whereas Italy, Israel and China are tougher on women. Men in developed countries receive harsher punishments for the same crime, compulsory military service, and (many) more occupational deaths than women.

In the UK men fall somewhat behind women in years of secondary education, and more than 3.3% behind in healthy life-expectancy. Globally, men are, allegedly, disadvantaged in 91 countries compared to 43 for women.

These results suggest that the structures and culture that protects ‘male power’ are perhaps somewhat less dominant – or effective – than we have been led to believe. At least when compared to say, oh I don’t know… capitalism.

The same week massive multinational Procter & Gamble unleashed its crusading new brand purpose on the world, assimilating hegemonic masculinity theory for its campaign for market hegemony, the venerable American Psychological Association published its “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men”.

This is the first time the APA have published guidelines for boys and men. According to them, boys and men who are socialised to conform to ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ often suffer in terms of mental and physical health. Although acknowledging that concepts of masculinity vary across cultures, ages and ethnicities ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ is characterised by achievement, risk, violence, dominance, anti-femininity, stigmatisation of the appearance of weakness and homophobia.

In other words, it’s much the same concept as hegemonic masculinity and its evil bro, toxic masculinity.

I think it’s good that the APA have finally released guidelines for boys and men, and of course agree that ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ is related to anti-femininity, and homophobia which does indeed have a cost for men as well as women- after all, my first book Male Impersonators, published a quarter of a century ago, made similar points about the relationship of homophobia to misogyny.

Though I feel rather more ambivalent about that once radical or at least marginal critique now that it has become official doctrine. I have also documented extensively in my work how many traditional ideas about masculinity have already been largely rejected or considerably modified by young men. And were probably always much less monolithic than we imagine – or ‘hegemonic’ theories allow.

Otherwise, impossibly pretty metrosexuality and its shockingly slutty successor, spornosexuality, could never have become the mass-market global phenomenon they are.

I’m ready for you, big boy!’

Some of the media coverage of the new guidelines unwittingly illustrated this. NBC headlineed their article ‘American Psychological Association links “masculinity ideology” to homophobia, misogyny’ – and chose a suggestive photo of male bodybuilders working out at 1940s Muscle Beach, Santa Monica.

Muscle Beach was a popular pick-up area with men who wanted to meet men – including Tennessee Williams and Christopher Isherwood. Perhaps NBC’s picture editor was trying to tell us that traditional masculinity ideology has more holes in it than a Santa Monica rest-room partition? Or maybe NBC just wanted to get clicks, as you do these spornographic days, by using a hunk of male eye candy – in this case, vintage eye-candy because ‘traditional’.

Actual traditional masculinity ideology isn’t very sexy. It’s not interested in inviting our 21st Century non-binary gaze nearly enough.

The APA report itself repeatedly reminds us that gender is ‘socially-constructed’ and that men have ‘greater socioeconomic advantages’ than women – but when it talks about the problems men face it sometimes seems to imply that they themselves are to blame:

‘Despite having greater socioeconomic advantages than women, men’s life expectancy is almost 5 years shorter than women; in every ethnic group the age-adjusted death rate is higher for men than women. A sex difference in risk-taking is largely responsible for this discrepancy. For example, accidents are the leading killer among all males aged 1 to 44 in the United States (CDC 2010).


‘Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men’ – American psychological association

Men and boys’ disadvantage in life-expectancy is immediately explained by ‘a sex difference in risk-taking’ rather than, say, referring to structural problems in society – which would likely be used to explain inequalities that disadvantage women and girls.

When you look at the CDC figures for leading causes of deaths in the US for 2010 you find that ‘unintentional injuries’ are also the leading killer amongst females, ages 1-34 (falling to second place in the 35-44 category). Likewise for the most recent figures available, 2015.

So it is only in the 35-44 category that there is a ‘sex difference’ in the sense that accidental deaths are the main cause of male deaths and not for females. The total number of deaths by accident for each sex will likely be different.

But probably not as different as the figures for occupational injury deaths. In 2016, there were 4,803 male and 387 female occupational injury deaths in the United States.

Note how the total numbers fall around 2008, when the financial collapse occurred and the property/construction bubble burst. Men are of course hideously ‘dominant’ in the construction industry – and also in pretty much all the other most dangerous and often poorly-paid low-status professions, such as fishers, loggers, roofers, farm workers and refuse collectors.

Maybe this is down to the ‘sex difference in risk-taking’ of this ‘socioeconomically privileged’ category called men. Or perhaps it has something to do with structural inequalities in society, a lack of provision for (non-rich) boys’ educational needs – and the ruthless, ‘toxic’ way capitalism screws labour, whatever its gender.

But let’s not dwell on such quibbles, or question too closely the newly dominant stereotypical notions about men and masculinity. They are the correct stereotypes, after all. Gender studies has shown us this. And today’s corporate capitalism has taken these lessons on board and selflessly liberated us from boring old class conflict, replacing it with uplifting messaging around gender politics.

Besides this month, in addition to chastising men as a ‘class’, we should be celebrating the fact that extremely well-paid women are now in charge of the behemoth US war industry, by far the largest in the world.

And it would be the worst kind of whataboutery to mention that despite this blow to the patriarchy, men are still much more likely to pay the ultimate price for war.

Funny Men & Lover Boys

I’ve yet to see it, but the just-released Stan & Ollie film about Laurel and Hardy’s disastrous, almost-posthumous tour of postwar Britain seems to be about their love for one another – or our investment in the idea of it.

STAN & OLLIE – OFFICIAL MAIN TRAILER [HD] Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly

Back in the no-homo early 1990s me and my pal Nick Haeffner wrote a newspaper piece on the ‘queer’ appeal of their touching on-screen relationship and of male comedy duos in general – but it was cruelly spiked. I expanded it and included it as a chapter – ‘Funny Men’ – in my 1994 book Male Impersonators (which is, clutch the pearls, twenty five years old this year).

To celebrate the release of Stan & Ollie and also a quarter of a century of Male Impersonators, ‘Funny Men’ is available in full on my Patreon page, unlocked for a short time so non-patrons can access it. (Apologies in advance for the mention of Judith Butler – it was the early 90s and Male Impersonators was commissioned by an academic publisher.)


Unable to hold down a job for the length of a film, irresponsible, cowardly, living in the shadow of their Amazonian wives and regularly given a good pasting by them, our heroes are wonderfully, thrillingly catastrophic failures as men. Which is of course why we love them — gay or straight.

I’ve made liberal use of stills and gifs, but unfortunately Patreon doesn’t allow embedding of videos, so here’s what may be my favourite Laurel and Hardy Clip Of All Time. It’s a scenario I think we have all experienced at some point:

There's a mans hand holding on to the foot of the bed – Laurel And Hardy

Also currently unlocked on Patreon is ”Oneymoons & Bloody Deviants’ an extended essay on how gay love stories lost their way at the movies – and how a tiny ‘for schools’ film made three decades ago was much more worthy of the praise and plaudits heaped on spectacularly mediocre films like Call Me By Your Name and God’s Own Country.

A sentimental, soapy love story isn’t enough to carry a movie now, just because your lovers both happen to have penises. Or are highly unlikely characters. No matter how beautiful or brooding or straight acting they might be, or how impeccably metropolitan and liberal the sympathies of the impossibly rurally-located film might be.

‘It’s OK. You don’t have to watch gay films if you don’t want to.’

Oh, and remember, for as little as $1 a month you can become a patron and get access to my premium postings, early access to work and news about new projects. I can’t promise you a Scudder will climb a ladder to your bedroom for that kind of money – but hopefully you’ll get an occasional treat or two.


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

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