And here’s another one:
Mark Simpson on Hollywood heartthrobs going ‘gayish’
The appearance of Channing Tatum and his Magic Mike XXL bun-chums Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez on a float at LA Pride shaking their money-makers for the highly appreciative LGBT crowd seems to have marked a watershed moment in the City of Signs.
Not long after Tatum’s float disappeared into the heat haze of Santa Monica Boulevard the Hollywood Reporter ran a piece by Merle Ginsberg, formerly of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, about the way straight male performers like Tatum have gone ‘beyond metrosexuality’ (characterised by the HR as ‘indulging in feminine-seeming pedicures and hair products’) and now want to be read as ‘gayish’.
Ginsberg argued that far from being frightened of gay attention and gay ‘taint’ as in days of yore, straight men these days actively – or is it passively? – seek out, tickle and tease the male gayze on Pride floats and Out magazine covers, and by talking about which other male actor they’d do if they did guys. The piece also looked at how this phenomenon of furiously flirty ‘straight homos’ – or ‘stromos’ as it was dubbed – is blurring the lines of sexuality and jamming gaydar.
Obviously this is a subject right up my proclivity. And sure enough I found myself quoted in the piece – but couldn’t quite remember when I’d given them. I searched my Inbox and found that I’d answered questions from Ginsberg about this phenomenon of straight male ‘gayness’ by email back in 2013. I guess even two years ago I’m still so now.
However the Hollywood Reporter piece seems to have ruffled a few gay feathers eliciting complaints about ‘gay stereotypes’ and ‘exploitation’. While it’s not really for me to defend the word ‘stromo’ – I’ve enough annoying neologisms of my own to look out for – the phenomenon that the article is about is definitely worth anatomising and certainly not ‘made up’ as some claim, offended ostrich-like.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I think the only problem with the Hollywood Reporter piece was that I wasn’t quoted enough – particularly since the article strives to delineate a difference between ‘stromos’ and ‘metrosexuals’ which seems to be based more on an American marketing definition of metrosexuality than mine.
So here are the answers metrodaddy gave in full. (Note the bit towards the end where I say the increasing incoherence of what we mean by ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ is troubling for traditionalists – straight and gay.)
MS: I agree that metrosexuality has morphed – though I would say it has always been morphing and that really it’s intensified. Metrosexuality was never about facials and flip flops it was about the male desire to be desired – which is rampant nowadays. Today’s men are totally tarty. And shameless hussies with it. Male self-objectification is very much the name of today’s game.
Funnily enough, I think this presents a problem for male celebs in general and movie actors in particular. Now that the young str8 male movie-going audience are so image conscious and so keen to attract the eye, the man on the screen has to go the extra mile – and get up even earlier for even longer, harder workouts. Likewise as their audience becomes ‘gayer’, they have to become even gayer or else end up looking Dad-ish. They have to push the envelope further and try harder than their male fans, or the boyfriends of their female fans, or else why should they be in the spotlight?
MG: What do you think of these actors/singers (Adam Levine) who look and dress and even move in a rather gay way? Is this the new masculinity?
Adam Levine looks and sounds like a singing David Beckham. With a bit of Marc Jacobs thrown in. But then Beckham is a kind of non-singing pop star.
What’s happening is that a kind of male bi-sensuality is becoming more and more the norm, both with young men and particularly with male performers, appropriating tastes and manners sensibilities and sensitivities that were previously preserved for women and gay men – on pain of emasculation and ridicule.
Men increasingly want to present themselves as available for any fantasy, and responsive to both sexes – even and especially when they’re heterosexual. It’s a useful strategy for a ‘civilian’ in today’s mediatised, mirrored world, but it’s an essential one if you’re a performer.
Is this possibly due to a further acceptance of gay culture in general? How did that happen over time?
It’s partly due to a greater acceptance of gay culture. If homophobia is uncool, as it is for most young people in the US or UK today, then fear of ‘gay’ things also, eventually, becomes uncool.
But I would almost put it the other way around, homophobia has declined because today’s men are less afraid of themselves than they used to be. Today’s straight men enjoy most of the same sexual practises as gay men, though usually with someone with a vagina, and have embraced gay men’s love of the male body too – though usually their own body. Likewise, male passivity is much less of a taboo than it was. The itchy throb of the prostate gland is no respecter of sexual orientation.
Why would a gay magazine put a straight guy on the cover? Why would a straight guy do it?
Gay magazines put straight men on the cover because a) Their readers, however much they may deny it sometimes, really like to look at hot straight guys, and b) it gets them press: ‘You’ll never guess who’s in his pants on the cover of OUT magazine this month!!’. A gay guy on the cover of a gay magazine is not news. Of course, straight guys on the cover of gay magazines is hardly news anymore now that they’re all scratching each other’s eyes out to get there…. Another reason why gay magazines do it is because it helps to make homophobia even un-cooler.
Why do straight celebs and sportsmen do it? Because: a) They get publicity, and b) They get kudos, and c), probably the most important, straight men nowadays love to be ‘gay icons’.
There is money and career points in having a ‘gay following’, to be sure, but I think the need for gay male approval goes deeper and is shared by a lot of young straight men today. It’s that desire to be desired thing again. Straight men ache to be sex objects – and what better way to be objectified than by other men? Straight men know how demanding men’s eyes can be. How penetrating their ‘gaze’ is.
Even if you have no desire to ever have sex with another guy there’s nothing quite so symbolically, deliciously ‘passive’ as being oggled by other penised human beings.
Is it confusing that we can’t tell who’s straight or who’s gay anymore? Is this a good thing?
It is very confusing. But confusion can be a good and liberating thing.
I think we’ve reached a point where straight men are so ‘gay’ nowadays that they’ve actually become ‘straight acting’. Those beards that gays started wearing back in the early Noughties to butch up have been adopted wholesale by a lot of straight guys in the last few years, and for similar reasons. The decorative, imitative machismo of the gay world has become the ‘real’ thing.
Likewise, the pleasuring and pleasured pneumatic porno male body that Tom of Finland was doodling from his overheated imagination back in the 50s and 60s has become the dominant mainstream fantasy. The Situation and his reality TV ‘bros’ have Tom-ish bodies that invite and plead for the gayze.
But of course the bigger picture is that what we mean by ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ is really breaking down into incoherence. Which is troubling for both straight and gay traditionalists. While you might think that gay men would all welcome this glorious confusion some do find it very disconcerting. And no one likes to be upstaged.
But in the end, the total triumph of metrosexuality and male tartiness, terrifying as it is, should probably be seen as a liberation for straight men – and a bloody relief for gay men. After all, they no longer have to embody all the vanity and tartiness of their entire sex just to keep straight men ‘normal’.
Mark Simpson on the (self) sexualisation of the male body
(Originally appeared in Out Magazine, February 2015)
Male self-objectification is, as they like to say on social media, a “thing.”
There’s been a rash lately of so-called “gender flip” memes, in which people pretend to be impressed by male hipsters pretending to subvert sexism by ironically adopting the clichéd poses of sexualized women.
Although sometimes funny and instructive, especially when it involves licking sledgehammers, the anti-sexism of many of these gender flip memes depends on a (hetero)sexist assumption that men just aren’t meant to be objectified — so it’s hilarious when they are.
Rather than, say, that the men adopting these cheesecake poses usually just aren’t very attractive.
It also relies on jamming your eyes shut in order not to notice how men who aren’t meme-generating hipsters prefer to stake their claim to our attention not on faux feminism but rather on sweat-soaked gym sessions, pricey supplements, plunging necklines, and general shamelessness. And as with sex itself, there’s nothing ironic about it. It’s a very serious, very profitable business.
At the multiplex, Chris Evans keeps blinding us with his all-American oiled bazookas. Channing Tatum and his bun chums keep whipping their pecs and asses out and — who knows? — may even finally deliver the man goods in this year’s sequel, Magic Mike XXL. Meanwhile, Guardians of the Galaxy recently wowed the world by proving that even previously pudgy Chris Pratt (of Parks and Recreation fame) can be a Men’s Health cover girl. And Chris Hemsworth was named “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine on account of his long lashes, big guns, and huge hammer.
There’s even an MTV Movie Award for “Best Shirtless Performance,” which in 2014 went to Zac Efron for That Awkward Moment — but only after he stripped again, onstage at the ceremony, without being awkward about it at all.
True, Hollywood too often still feels the need to justify big-screen male sluttiness with CGI heroics, a kind of muscular Christianity in spandex — insisting, in effect, that this is virile activity, not gay/girly passivity. And as if to keep that sluttiness further in check, it often limits the nude or topless male scenes to one per 100-minute movie.
Perhaps because it caters more to women, TV is a relatively unbuttoned medium when it comes to the male body. Even TV superheroes such as Stephen Amell’s Arrow are often costume-optional. Maybe because their male characters are already damned, gothic shows like True Blood, Teen Wolf, and The Vampire Diaries are positively pulsing with appetizing boy flesh. It’s enough to make anyone grow fangs. And the young, buff men of reality TV — the Jersey Shorettes — are everywhere, wearing very little, and doing even less. Except demanding we look at them.
The “structure” of structured reality TV is usually unveiled male V-shapes. In the U.K., a voluptuously endowed, cheeky, straight(ish) guy in The Only Way Is Essex (the U.K. Jersey Shore equivalent) called Dan Osborne became a national hero in 2014 after wearing glittery Speedos on prime time on another reality show,Splash! — even upstaging his mentor, the perfectly formed Olympic diver Tom Daley.
The 23-year-old Osborne, like a lot of today’s self-objectifying straight men, loves The Gays. Really loves them. Last year he appeared in the U.K. gay magazine Attitude, very generously offering readers his shapely bubble butt across a double-page spread, with the strapline “Sex is fun. Be safe and enjoy it.” He told Attitude, “I’ve had a few bum pinches, and I don’t mind that at all. Maybe it’s because a guy knows how hard it is to train, so they appreciate it more.”
Here in the States, pumped underwear model Alex Minsky — the indelibly inked U.S. Marine Corps vet and amputee — is very happy to mercilessly titillate his many appreciative gay fans with naked naughtiness. And even a major film star like James Franco can’t seem to leave them alone, posting all those semi-naked selfies on his Instagram feed.
The way straight young men chase and hustle gay attention today represents a major, millennial shift in attitudes. Part of the reason that men offering themselves as sex objects were frowned upon in the past was that they could be objectified by anyone — including people with penises. They were queered by the penetrating queer gaze.
Now they beg and plead for it. They instinctively know that male objectification is about enjoying and celebrating male passivity, even — and especially — if you’re straight. So getting the gays proves not only your hotness, and coolness, but also your metaphysical versatility. It proves that you are a proper, fully fledged, all-singing, all-dancing sex object.
Blame the metrosexual, who was born two decades ago, outing male vanity and the masculine need to be noticed. In just a generation, the male desire to be desired, or “objectified,” to use that ugly word — which the metrosexual exemplified — has become mainstream: It’s regarded as a right by today’s selfie-admiring young men, regardless of sexual orientation.
In a visual world, men want to be wanted too — otherwise, they might disappear. They also need to look a lot at other men in order to better understand how to stand out.
Second-generation metrosexuality is very obviously more body-centered and hardcore — or spornosexual. Young men today want to be wanted, not for their wardrobes, but for their bodies. Bodies they spend a great deal of time, effort, and money fashioning into hot commodities down at the gym, tanning salon, and designer tattoo parlor — and then uploading to the online marketplace of social media for “likes,” “shares,” and cutthroat comparisons with their pals.
It shouldn’t be so surprising. Today’s young men are growing up with a different idea of “normal,” in which European and Australian professional rugby players are happy to strip down and oil up. The highly homoerotic, highly provocative Dieux du Stade calendars of rugby players in the buff became only slightly less homoerotic when adapted by Dolce and Gabbana in their megabucks advertising campaigns starring the Italian World Cup soccer team. David Beckham and then Cristiano Ronaldo offered similar favors for Armani, followed by lithe Spanish tennis ace Rafael Nadal, who is currently filling out the Italian designer packet. And former Australian rugby league player Nick Youngquest is now the body and face — in that order — of Paco Rabanne.
Gays are no longer a despised or marginalized niche — they’re leverage. If you get the gays panting, you eventually get everyone else.
David Gandy, possibly the world’s only male supermodel who isn’t a professional athlete, has a darkly handsome, model-perfect face. But his sensual, athletic, beautiful body is his calling card. So it is entirely apt that he was “made” by Mr. & Mr. D&G, who cast him in their famous 2007 “Light Blue” campaign, in a boat off Capri, wearing scandalously abbreviated D&G swim trunks, glistening in the sun and lying back, hands behind his head, awaiting our attention. He was accompanied by a foxy lady (Marija Vujovic), but he was the unquestioned object of the camera’s gaze.
Seven years on, it’s still his trademark. In a clip for Gandy’s recent Autograph underwear campaign, the camera, in extreme close-up, licks down his naked torso towards his naked, shaved groin — then fades out just in time.
It’s clear to anyone who wants to notice that in the spornosexual 21st century, the male body has been radically redesigned. With the help of some “objectifying” blueprints from Tom of Finland, it is no longer simply an instrumental thing for extracting coal, building ships, making babies, fighting wars, and taking the trash out. Instead it has become a much more sensual, playful thing for giving and especially receiving pleasure.
Or as the young men of the Warwick University rowing team put it in a promotional quote for the 2015 version of their now famous nude charity calendar, dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports and rammed with arty ass shots: “Regardless of gender or sexuality, we are inviting you into that moment with us.”
Yes, I’ve done my invert duty and been to see Magic Mike. Which, according to The New York Times, gay men are ‘flocking’ to see in numbers not seen since Brokeback Mountain.
Even if they’re not all as jaded as me I think they’re going to be very disappointed. And not because in Magic Mike gay or bisexual men don’t exist, even as a famously generously tipping audience for male stripping – except as a punchline. In one ‘hilarious’ scene Alex Pettyfer’s uptight sister thinks for a hairy moment he might be gay because he’s shaving his legs. Phew! He’s not gay. He’s a male stripper!
No the betrayal is much, much worse than any of that. And judging by how quickly the mostly female audience in my cinema auditorium stopped giggling and having fun it’s not just The Gays who are going to feel betrayed.
Magic Mike just doesn’t deliver the goods. The junk stays in the trunks. It’s a 110 minute prick-tease without any pricks and very little tease. Most unforgivably of all, this male stripper movie – starring Channing Tatum – wants to be taken seriously. It thinks it has a plot.
And the plot is… another fucking Hollywood morality tale. Will Tatum manage to escape the sleazy, druggy, boys-together world of male stripping and Alex Pettyfer’s winsome grin and end up with his judgey, bossy sister, Cody Horn?
Especially since there’s not nearly enough sleaze on display. I can’t remember the last time I was so bored. Oh, yes, I remember now. Watching Brokeback Mountain.
Fatally, this stripper movie has no sense of timing. Not just in the literally pointless strip routines. Magic Mike suffers from perhaps the worst case of premature ejaculation in cinema history. Two minutes into the film you get the money shot – two seconds of Tatum’s smooth bubble-butt in all its firm, bouncy glory heading for his en-suite in digital Panavision. Which is very nice.
But that, as they say, is a wrap.
Except you’ve got another 108 minutes to go. Another 108 minutes in which as far as I can remember you never see Tatum’s ass properly again. In this movie about male stripping and the commodification of the male body. Given that you can see Tatum’s bouncy ass scene for free in a trailer for the movie it’s the con of Captain America all over again – but even more of rip off. The wrong kind of rip off.
It goes without saying that you never even glimpse his cock. Floppy or otherwise. Or even a dangly bollock. It is, after all, Hollywood, and while Tatum may have worked as a male stripper in the past and worked that past to get where he is, he is now a Proper Hollywood Star and Proper Hollywood Stars don’t show you their cocks. Because that would be low class. Especially in a move about male stripping.
And apart from a glimpse of a couple of silhouettes of clearly prosthetic penises you don’t see anyone else’s cock, either, floppy or otherwise. Magic Mike is essentially a movie about cockless male strippers. Male stripping with no stripping. Which could have been interesting in an avant-garde, sadistic sort of way. But of course, it’s really not that sort of movie.
Maybe I underestimate the director Steven Soderbergh. Maybe he decided to ruin his career by deliberately making a crowd-pleasing summer movie that didn’t please anyone.
A more likely explanation however is that Soderbergh was frantically trying not to scare straight male punters. And safely sublimated homoerotic sub-plots aside, he does work overtime in this movie to reassure that the male strippers are all a) straight and b) dudes. But if he was pandering to straight men he failed there too. Straight men search online for pictures of (big) dick as much as they do for pussy. They are going to be at least as disappointed as everyone else. Except maybe lesbians.
What’s going on here is yet another instance of the puritannical American Phalliban at work. Protecting the sanctity and power of the phallus by making sure the cock is never shown in public. After all, no matter how freakish, the cock never lives up to the promise of the phallus. Even if Magic Mike had the balls to show us… balls it would still have been something of an anti-climax. As I put it in Male Impersonators back in 1994 (which, let’s face it, is really the era when Magic Mike is set):
‘The myth of male stripping mesmerises precisely because it contradicts itself with every discarded item… No matter how freakish his genital attributes, no matter how craftily engorged and arranged with rings and elastic bands, no matter how frantically it is waved and waggled, the stripper’s penis, once naked, never lives up to the promise of the phallus: the climactic finale of the strip is… an anti-climax.’
Femininity is traditionally seen and represented in Hollywood movies as ‘masquerade’. The clothes, the hair, the breasts, the heels, the make-up all stand in for the ‘missing’ phallus. Masculinity meanwhile is meant to just be there. Because men have the phallus. Women appear. Men act. Or so the traditional reasoning went.
But Magic Mike, because it’s a cockless movie about male stripping, is, inadvertently, a good if boring example of masculinity as masquerade. With thongs and leather and cop uniforms and oiled tanned pecs and really bad, unsexy dance routines standing in for the phallus. A kind of male Showgirls, without the camp or the fun. Or the ‘show’. There’s a scene where Tatum is dancing dressed in a thong, a SWAT cap and black webbing ammunition pouches over his torso. It looks like a butch basque.
Perhaps because it can’t show us dick, and because it’s trying to reassure an imagined straight male punter, Magic Mike does though keep ramming down our throats that the men have cocks and women don’t – and is mostly unable to negotiate women’s active, assertive sexuality, something that of course the commodification of cocks so characteristic of today’s culture is based on.
By way of a pep talk Matthew McConaughey, who plays (with real relish) the owner of the male strip club, likes to ask his male dancers: “Who’s got the cock? You do. They don’t.”
Or as Tatum, dressed as a cop in the now famous opening scene of the main trailer says to a nervous sorority girl he’s about to frisk:
Mike: You don’t have anything sharp on you that I can stick myself with, do you?
Mike: Good. ‘Cause I do!
[rips off pants, women scream]
But does he? After all, we only have his word for it. And anyway, those words are highly unreliable. Don’t his words actually tell a different story to the one the movie is telling us? Don’t they say either:
a) I have a penis large enough to fuck myself with – please allow me to demonstrate
b) Stand back ladies and watch me use my night stick on myself!
Sadly, he doesn’t do either, of course. That’s an entirely different and much more watchable movie. One that I suspect we might have been able to see if Channing Tatum hadn’t had the misfortune to become a Hollywood star, and instead of being condemned to theatrical releases on the big screen had graduated from stripping in South Florida clubs to live shows on our PC screens.