No Homo: How Metroman keeps the gay away: by showing off his ass(ets)
What you must do, son, is become a fucker and not become a fucked. It’s as simple as that. Boys or girls, up the pussy or the arse, whichever you prefer, but you’ve got to remember there’s a cock between your legs and you’re a man.
-Colin McInnes, in an unpublished novel, (quoted in Simpson, 1994:69)
‘Interest in men is permitted, indeed encouraged, but must always be expressed through the game’. (Simpson, 1994:72)
The Anus And Its Goalposts*
‘The ‘overwhelming maleness’ of football is a swooning passion for virility that sweeps boys keen to be men and not at all sure how to become one (except not to be a ‘poof’) off their feet. Football provides the boy with an answer of how to reconcile his homoerotic desire, his ‘feminine’ love of ‘manliness’, with his desire to be manly, i.e. not a ‘fucked’. If, in the words of Eve Kokofsky Sedgewick, ‘for a man to be a man’s man is separated only by an invisible, carefully blurred, always already-crossed line from being ‘interested in men’, then football blurs it still further but sharpens it at the same time, giving boys and men more leeway to express something approaching an interest in men, as well as setting up clear ground rules that reassure the male spectator/player who is quite literally paranoid about overstepping that ‘always already crossed’ line’. (Simpson, 1994:72).
I read an article recently, by the sports journalist Giles Smith, in The Times UK (if you want to know about masculinity, read The Times, or, rather, look at the pictures). It referred to a comment by actor Jeremy Irons about how it should be ok for men to pat women’s bottoms, because it is ‘friendly’ flirting, and feminists were prudes. Smith related this to the habit of footballers to ‘pat’ opposing players on the arse as a way of distracting and intimidating them. The article was illustrated by this iconic black and white photo below, of Vinny Jones administering some serious CBT to a squealing Paul Gascgoine. Smith, in a slightly I have to say, ‘homo-anxious’ article, said that ‘bottom patting’ should not be allowed on the pitch, but that if you are going to touch your opponents you should go the whole hog and ‘do a Vinny Jones’ gonads grab.
An alternative view to Smith’s that I found, was from a psychologist, who said that for members of the same team, ‘touch’ is actually a way of reinforcing the positive ‘bond’ between the players.
‘Recent research has established that members of high performing teams touch each more than those on other teams. One theory is that it keys the release of the hormone oxytocin, which creates strong bonds between the team members.’
With all this man on man contact within football in mind, I started reading Mark Simpson’s 1994 classic, Male Impersonators**. He described that image of Jones and Gascgoine in all its gory detail. There are no illustrations in his book, but due to the photo in the Times piece (behind a paywall unfortunately) and Simpson’s evocative descriptions, I had the picture etched into my mind. With a caption attached: OW!
‘Jones/Gascgoine’s ‘embrace’ ‘expresses, through the grotesque parody of the greatest tenderness between men, the greatest hate. Jones’ face, a portrait of malice, faces away from Gascgoine, but his hand conveys its message, anonymous-and-yet-personal: the very essence of masculine violence. Here there is no fraternity, no equality, this is a triumphal depiction of domination. Vinny Jones, foootball’s ‘Hard Man’, the crew-cut castrator, holds cry-baby Gascgoine’s soft manhood in his hod carrier’s hand. In this tableau from a male morality play, there can be no mistaking the import: in hetero-speak Jones is the ‘fucker’, Gascgoine the ‘fucked’. (Simpson 1994:70).
According to Simpson’s analysis, the ‘masculinity’ of football rests on a binary opposition, between the image above, of a man expressing sadistic, physical hatred for another, and those other images of footballers, kissing, hugging and celebrating goals and victories together. He refers to a famous photograph of Pele and Moore, which represents ‘the sublime fraternity of ‘the beautiful game’, harmony between teams, nations, races, men’ (Simpson 1994: 70).
‘And like the tough on whose right hand knuckles are tattooed the words LOVE and on the other HATE the first image [Pele/Moore] of football’s beauty depends on the second’s ugliness. The love of Pele and Moore depends on the hate of Vinny and Gascgoine, two views of the game that are in fact a unity. One portrays ‘beauty’, the other ‘beast’, both combine in the myth of football (Simpson 1994:70).
So if Simpson is to be believed, and let’s face it, most people don’t believe him, but I do, football is a very sexual expression of men’s ‘interest in men’. A sexuality expressed by players and fans alike, in both loving and more ‘sado-masochistic’ ways. Because ‘manly’ ‘recreational’ violence is never far from football, no matter how hard the authorities try to ‘clean up the game’. And if that isn’t sexual I don’t know what is.
If we look at sporno imagery then, we see the (homo)sexual aspect of football writ large. How can football and its fans continue to ‘deny’ the homo-erotics of their beloved sport, when players are stripping off and offering themselves to the metrosexual male viewer, ‘literally asking to be fucked’?
One answer could be that ‘speedophobia’ , as symbolised by contemporary football kits, for example, is part of that denial. The players are literally covering up the truth by wearing baggy shorts, loose tops and long socks, hiding as much as possible of their potent, inviting, ‘fuck me’ flesh.
Another, more complex answer, is that some people, especially fans, are not denying this difficult truth at all. Or rather they may be ‘sublimating’ it via humour and ‘fiction’.
You don’t have to look very hard on the internet to find sites like this one, which features pictures of ‘famous footballers gay kissing’ for example. These two lovers are so famous I don’t know who they are, but I like their style, especially the grabbing of the man on the right by the neck and pulling him in for more impact. It is significant the photos are on a website full of ‘funny stuff’ – the ‘gay kissing’ is very much shown for laughs.
Slashfic, too, that partly underground genre of creative writing that unearths the homoerotic subtexts in everything – from politics to pop to comedy to history, has its own football slash online ‘communities’. The majority of slashfic writers are women – as Simpson has said, it is a postmodern expression of an older tradition of Manlove for the ladies. But I am pretty sure that many of the football slashfic writers are men. There are women fans but football is still a male-dominated arena, and I think the men fans are starting to make a (sometimes even celebratory) knowing nod and a wink to the now impossible to ignore homo-ness of football. There is something about slashfic though, that could be seen to be ‘denying’ homosexuality whilst also drawing attention to its possibility. By making ‘gay’ stories about Cameron and Clegg, or John Terry and Frank Lampard, slashfic writers are in some ways emphasising the ‘fiction’, drawing attention to their fantasy about something they know is not actually real.
Another example of men fans finally facing up to facts, or at least referring to them in a light-hearted way, is Viz, a ‘lads mag’ for clever people, which has a feature called ‘up the arse corner’, featuring photos of footballers in compromising positions on the pitch. But I think this knowingness about the homo subtexts of football is kept within set boundaries, or goal posts if you prefer- satire, humour, slashfic. Once you get offline and go to the match, you as a fan, and the game of football itself, are put firmly back in the closet, you step back over to the ‘right side’ of that ‘always already crossed’ line.
Easy Access: A Very Revealing Fashion Statement
I am not a football fan and I don’t spend much time with those who are, but as far as I am aware, football fans don’t actually go round saying ‘No Homo’. The homo-denial of football is implicit, unspoken. To express it overtly might give the game away.
The phrase ‘No Homo’ actually comes from Afro –American youth culture, where homo-denial is verbalised to a point of no return. This can be linked to the homo denial of ‘speedophobia’. Because, as Simpson pointed out, one of the first men to discover the joys of covering up his assets was Michael Jordan, the 1980s NBA black basketball star. He is a big man and he had a lot of flesh to cover up. I suspect he was becoming aware, even then, of how sportsmen’s bodies were becoming ‘objects of desire’ in a commodified way like never before. Since the 80s, loose baggy clothing has become a trademark style of young black men, whilst the bodies the clothes cover up have become more and more buff.
Jordan and his friends may not have used the term ‘No Homo’ itself in the 1980s. But the meaning behind the phrase has been part of black (American) culture for a long time. The words ‘nigger’ and ‘faggot’ often go together, and have some kind of etymological relationship with each other, I think. At least in common usage if not in dictionary origins. As rap music has shown, it is very important for ‘niggers’ to emphasise that they are not ‘faggots’.
The complexities of masculinity, identity, clothing, homophobia and homosexuality in relation to Afro-American and Afro Carribean culture, are too far-ranging for the scope of this discussion. But they are relevant to its concerns.
This image probably sums up the complexities quite succinctly and comprehensively though:
The photo, of a young, fashionable black man with his jeans slung very low, showing his bright red boxers-clad ass, is an example of a trend known as ‘sagging’.
According to Guardian journalist Alex Needham:
‘It’s well documented that the look comes from prisoners having their belts taken away in case they use them to hang themselves. Though showing your barely clad backside to an unsuspecting world carries only a dim echo of this lawless attitude, that echo is amplified when the authorities fall into the trap of trying to criminalise it. There’s also the fact that showing your arse is an insult that predates hip-hop by centuries – this is simply a muted version, hence its persistent popularity with teenage boys’.
I think Needham (who also mentions how sagging has now been adopted by white lads too), is right. But he, an out gay man, has failed to mention the big throbbing elephant in the room – these boys are ‘asking for it’ and in quite an aggressive manner.
One person, an American psychologist, has acknowledged the elephant in the room:
‘Along with a sense of counter-cultural affiliations, Dr. Townes says that sagging pants have the potential to send both homoerotic and homophobic signals. “It’s almost like the young men are daring people to look at their behinds or to take their manhood.”’
ALMOST? I think this psychologist is brave and honest to say what, in Afro-American culture, but also in white liberal circles, is unsayable. But I have to take issue with his use of the word ‘almost’ here. These young men, in their baggy, speedophobic jeans, but with their arses hanging out invitingly and provocatively, ARE ‘daring people [other men] to look at their behinds [AND] take their manhood’.
‘Sagging’ could be seen as the iconography of ‘No-Homo’.
The arse says: ‘YOU want to fuck ME, but that makes YOU a faggot, nigger! No Homo.’
As Mark Simpson expressed it (in a personal correspondence) sagging provides ‘easy access’ to the ‘fuckee’s’ arse. Or the potential fuckee. It is a tease, a challenge, a ‘macho’ repudiation of homo-ness, using the ultimate homo symbol- the ass.
One thing I like about sagging, regardless of the aesthetic, is how it reminds us that no matter how much you cover up your ass(ets) in metrosexual mediated masculinity, they will always show through. It draws attention not only to men’s homo-anxiety, in quite a graphic way, but it also draws attention to how ludicrous ‘speedophobic’ attempts to use baggy clothing to avert homo desire (and metrosexual exhibitionism) are.
Masculinity Goes Soft? Academic attempts to ‘cover up’ men’s (metro) sexual charge.
Can we go from ‘No Homo’ to ‘Yes Homo’ in one easy move? Well no. And nobody is saying we can. But some academics seem to be presenting the argument that ‘declining homophobia’ is somehow magically, if gradually, removing all the contradictions and complexities around men, masculinity, sport, bodies, representation, homo-anxiety and (homo)sexuality that I have been talking about here.
Eric Anderson and colleagues at Winchester university for example, have been researching sports culture and have found that declining homophobia and a ‘softening’ of masculine presentation and attitudes, has led to an acceptance of gay athletes in the UK and the USA. A report on his research quotes him:
‘There’s not been a single reported case of an athlete being bullied or seriously harassed over the past decade,” said Professor Anderson. “This is a significant improvement and evidence of a clear trend that is challenging the pockets of homophobia in sport that still exist.”
According to Professor Anderson, there has been a softening of the heterosexual masculine culture and this has a profound effect on the experience of gay men. “It seems that today’s youth have grown up with gay friends – they have not been socialised into 1980s style homophobia,” said Professor Anderson. “Heterosexual male youth today are much more tactile and loving with each other. They increasingly cultivate close friendships or ‘bromances’ with their straight male friends rather than portraying themselves as hard masculine men.”
Professor Anderson says the situation is even better in the UK: “There have been openly gay sports stars coming out amidst resounding support’.
I am not denying the validity of Anderson et al’s research findings. It makes sense to me, that in contemporary society, where ‘metrosexuality’ has emerged, in part, out of a relaxing of stereotypes about what it means to be a man (and indeed a woman), young men are becoming more open to engaging in behaviours once considered ‘gay’. That’s what metrosexuality is, isn’t it?
But the picture Anderson paints of sports that only contain ‘pockets of homophobia’, of openly gay athletes having no problems of bullying, and of young men no longer feeling the need to portray themselves as ‘hard, masculine men’ just does not ring true to me. I doubt they ring true to this ‘hard, masculine’ young man, either.
There is something about the use of the word ‘softening’ in relation to masculinity that I find particularly problematic. It seems to be quite literally denying, or maybe claiming an end to, the sexual and aggressive elements of men’s relationship with sport (and their own bodies). Softening masculinities seem to focus on ‘gay’ identity politics and changing gender roles, which are more cosy and manageable than, for example, Simpson’s version of the ‘fucker v fuckee’ conflict as acted out in football. Anderson uses the term ‘bromance’ to sum up young men’s friendships, which just makes me think of insipid Hollywood films like Brokeback Mountain, and Boyband Ballads. In other words, sanitised media ‘constructions’ of masculinity that are full of homo-denial themselves.
I also do not know of any ‘out’ gay professional footballers in the UK, only one cricketer, no tennis players and one rugby player. If homophobia is only in ‘pockets’ within sports, they must be pretty big pockets.
We could call the academics’ determination to hide aspects of contemporary masculinity, ‘metrophobia’. Sports studies, and the study of masculinity in sports culture, is one area of academia where the metrosexual has been impossible to ignore. Feminist gender studies, fashion, media and cultural studies, though concerned to some degree with the phenomenon of men’s changing behaviours, have not embraced the ‘m’ word at all as far as I can tell (except for one or two isolated and ignored papers). They simply pretend it does not exist.
However much they may want to, though, sports academics just cannot completely ignore how sportsmen have ‘gone metro’. Sporno, with the help of sports stars such as Beckham, Ronaldo, Henson and Nadal, has shoved metrosexuality’s pert ass in sports studies’ face. But you can deny its significance. And that is what the academics seem to have done.
There is one book dedicated to ‘the metrosexual’ in sport, by David Coad (Coad 2008). It acknowledges Mark Simpson’s role in coining the term and defining the meanings of ‘metrosexual’ masculinity, and it acknowledges the ‘spornification’ of sports. But I can only find one review of Coad’s book online, and the author himself seems to have abandoned the subject altogether since its publication.
Most academic papers concerned with masculinity in sports seem to mention metrosexuality in passing, but move on very quickly to write about sports and masculinity in much more established terms such as ‘hegemonic masculinity’, ‘patriarchy’ and ‘traditional v non-traditional gender roles’. Feminist terms, basically.
John Harris, for example, in his 2007 paper on ‘Gavin Henson- The First Metrosexual Rugby Star’ barely mentions Simpson’s definitions and discussions of metrosexuality at all. After a long exploration of Connell (1995)’s ‘hegemonic masculinity’ model, Harris slips in a mention of the ‘m’ word:
‘Metrosexuality may be a truly postmodern term – an effect of consumerism and media proliferation on western definitions of masculinity. As such, the term metrosexuality is rather obsolete in contemporary accounts of masculinity theory, which emphasise the multiplicity of masculine identity and the changing nature of hegemonic masculinity through history and context, and therefore, refute any notion of a ‘new man’’.
Harris only refers to Mark Simpson in passing, and only ‘quotes’ Simpson from a ‘60 second interview’ in the UK free newspaper, entitled, aptly, Metro. He also presents metrosexuality as a form of expression only available to ‘middle class white’ men. The ignorance of which is not even worth challenging. (Harris 2007:152). Since when have footballers and their fans been ‘middle class’ for example?
Maybe Harris’s view can be summed up by this statement:
‘It is perhaps here that we might locate Simpson’s characterisation of metrosexuality as a dimension of male identity rather than as a brand of masculinity in itself, as a man’s attachment to his body and the image it presents’. (Harris 2007:152).
I might go so far to say that Anderson, Harris and other academics are the academic, discursive manifestation of ‘speedophobia’. They seem intent on covering up in baggy ideas and loose-fitting language, the fact that men have ‘an ass and a packet’, and the homo-anxiety that fact causes, especially in the context of sports, where Sporno illuminates and exaggerates that anxiety (and that ass and packet).
My question to these ‘softening masculinity’ advocates, is, if homophobia didn’t just decline but actually disappeared, what would be left of sport? And if a man’s ‘attachment to his body and the image it presents’ is not the defining attribute (or ‘brand’) of masculinity today, then why is sport so obsessed with selling the bodies of its players?
Cleverley Done: How The Media Utilises And Promotes Metrosexuality, Whilst Also Denying It Exists
The Times Sports Section one recent Saturday had a very pretty pin up on the cover. Serena Williams? No. Sharapova? No. It was Tom Cleverley, a rising star in football, who plays for Manchester Utd and is on his way to becoming a member of the England team.
Tom’s face fills the front page. His blue eyes look directly at the camera. His full lips are parted slightly, a pose all models know how to pull off, so you can imagine yourself slipping something between them – a tongue, a finger, a ….? His hair is short, fashionably sculpted and highlighted. It is not difficult to see the influence of his ‘idol’, David Beckham.
The headline on the cover reads: HE’s GOT THE LOOK! This is taken from Sheena Easton’s song ‘SHE’s got the look’. And the byline calls Tom a ‘starlet’. It might be the introduction to an article about Keira Knightley. The words and the images are feminine.
The article inside is a two-page spread, but most of the space is taken up with another photo of Tom. This time it is a full-length body shot. He is leaning against a wall, dressed casually in jeans and a leather jacket, but he is still looking straight at the camera coquettishly. You can’t take your eyes off me, he seems to be saying.
There is a cartoon inserted into the piece. It features a tattooist in his tattoo parlour, and he is on the phone. The caption reads:
‘Is that Tom Cleverley? I hear you want to be like David Beckham…’
This innocuous little cartoon sums up what The Times are saying about Cleverley: if this rising ‘starlet’ wants to emulate his ‘idol’ Beckham, he will have to match Becks narcissistic act for narcissistic act. Because Beckham is all about ‘the look’.
So has The Times done the unthinkable and ‘outed’ not only Cleverley but also football itself, as the exhibitionist, commodified, metrosexual, spornotastic display that it is? Hold the front page!
Well no, it hasn’t. Because the text of the article itself is a traditional run of the mill ‘macho’ piece of sports journalism. I couldn’t follow it all due to my lack of interest in actual football (as opposed to the imagery and masculine complexities that surround it). But it was full of phrases such as ‘midfielder…transfer…European Championships….goal scoring…early in the season…money… Alex Ferguson…class of ’92….’
There was no mention of Cleverley’s beautiful blue eyes, or the way he parts his lips, or speculation about who his really big signing will be with: Armani? Gucci? Rolex? Because the passive exhibitionism of sports stars is still closeted, even whilst it is used to sell newspapers, and underpants, and watches. The Times use metrosexual imagery, and they even knowingly wink at it, in the form of a humorous cartoon. But they don’t talk about it. That, like if football fans actually said ‘No Homo’, would give the game away. And we can’t have that.
No Speedo: The Next Generation?
Metrosexuality is complex. This examination of the relationship between sporno and speedophobia has only begun to explore some of the complexities and contradictions of contemporary mediated metrosexual masculinities. One of those contradictions is the seemingly impossible to negotiate contrast between some very ‘traditional’ ‘homo-anxious’ dynamics for example that pervade sports such as football, or black Afro-America youth culture, and the flagrant, tarty, commodified ‘passive’ exhibitionism as shown in ‘sporno’ and other metrosexual imagery.
This picture of the UK actor and model Philip Oliver, who photographed himself for a gay friend, and tweeted the photo to the world, sums up that ‘seemingly impossible to negotiate contrast’ pretty well, and very prettily. ‘No Speedo’:
But I think Oliver does negotiate in a self-aware manner, that contrast, between ‘old school’ homo-anxiety and contemporary metrosexual narcissism/exhibitionism. And what’s more he seems to be enjoying it. As I wrote on seeing the photo, and a slightly disgruntled response to it from a gay man:
‘Metrosexual culture is confusing. I am the first to admit that! But in that confusion there is some potential for men to stop ‘going round with one hand tied behind their backs‘. I see some playful sense of ‘freedom’ in Oliver’s photo. And if it is as far as he goes down homo lane, that is his own business. In comparison to the modern metroman, gay men could be seen to be more constrained in many ways, in terms of their sexual identities. I sense some jealousy of that freedom from many gay men.’
Another photo that gives me some hope for the future of metro-masculinities, is this one of Tom Daley, the talented UK diver. Ok, it is obvious Daley is sponsored by Adidas, but this is not an actual advert. This is his twitter profile picture. He is presenting his ‘active’ sports identity as a diver in a ‘passive’ spornographic pose, and does not seem to be feeling any conflict at all. I love the water splashing behind him, indicating the movement of Daly’s ‘active’ masculine self, with him stood still in front. If we start to acknowledged the beauty of men’s bodies within the context of their sports (like the ancient Greeks did), as well as in advertising and fashion, I think there is a chance we can become less ‘homo-anxious’ about the significance, and the sexual orientations of those lovely asses and packets, and the men who like to look at them.
I may have spoken too soon, however, because, when Daley did do an advert (for a Nestle sponsored fitness initiative), fully clothed and modest, one of the comments under the youtube clip said:
‘Tom Daley is as bent as a nine bob note.’
And you can’t get more old-school than a nine bob note!
Daley incidentally was born in 1994, the same year as Justin Bieber, and the very year that Mark Simpson coined the term ‘metrosexual’ (and published Male Impersonators). I am not a Belieber in ‘omens’ or Great Men of History or Great Moments of History, but I do think this new generation of teenagers, including Justin and Tom, really may be changing the face of metrosexual masculinity as we know it, so that maybe, one day, the preoccupations contained in this essay, just as Harris wishes ‘metrosexuality’ itself was, will be obsolete.
*The Anus and Its Goalposts is taken from the title of the football chapter in Simpson’s Male Impersonators (1994): ‘Active Sports- The Anus And Its Goalposts’.
In that chapter, Simpson mentioned Justin Fashanu, then the only out UK gay footballer, as a sign of hope, just as I have mentioned Daley as one. But Justin committed suicide four years after Simpson’s book was published, in 1998. This essay is dedicated to his memory. A memory which serves to remind us that ‘change’ is never straightforward.
Coad, D (2008) The Metrosexual: Gender, Sexuality And Sport SUNY Press
Connell, RW (1995) Masculinities University of California Press
Harris, J (2007) ‘Gavin Henson: The First Metrosexual Rugby Star’ Journal Of Sports Studies
Simpson, M (1994) Male Impersonators Cassell
** Some of the ideas in these two pieces come in part from previous discussions I have had with the author of Male Impersonators. If there is anything in them that wrongly attributes (or fails to attribute) concepts to him, or misrepresents him or his work in any way, if he lets me know I will edit as appropriate.