Was John Lennon gay? “Why are you bringing up such a ridiculous question? Who cares if he was gay? I thought this article was about John Lennon almost beating a guy to death.” Well, it is, it is, keep reading and you will see all the pieces to this incredible, little-known chapter in the life of John Lennon and how perilously close his temper came to ending the Beatles entirely, almost before they really got started. This savage beating also helped change Lennon’s life, as he said “It was the last fight I ever got into. That’s when I gave up violence, because all my life I’d been like that.”
In 1963, the Beatles’ were beginning to become famous in England and Europe. A little over a year earlier, they signed with a manager named Brian Epstein (who incidentally died of a drug overdose just four years after this). Epstein was unequivocal in his sexual preferences- he was as gay as they come. (As a point of note, being gay was actually against the law in Britain at the time, and was to remain so until 1966.)
According to Pete Best, the Beatles drummer before Ringo, Brian had tried making passes at all four Beatles (including himself) and was met, each time, with a polite but firm, rejection. Many Beatles fans knew about Brian’s “secret life” and assumed that Paul, the “cute Beatle”, and the one most of the girls liked, was the object of his affections. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was the loud, overbearing, and aggressive John Lennon who Brian was crazy about.
In April of 1963, the Beatles were now one of the hottest acts in Europe. Their records were selling like the proverbial hotcakes. The first album was sitting in the #1 spot on the charts; their concerts were selling out to capacity crowds; and within a few brief months, they would be playing the Royal Variety Performance in front of the Queen herself.
It was at this time, out of the blue, that John and Brian decided to take a break in the Beatles’ very busy schedule and go off together for a holiday in Spain. The first suspicious thing about this amongst fans was “Why did John go on holiday, as his wife had recently given birth to a new son?” (Cynthia had gave birth to Julian, John’s first son, on March 8, 1963). John admitted, years later, what a rotten and selfish thing this was for him to have done, but nonetheless, he went with Brian, sparking rumors that it was a romantic get-a-way.
Fellow Beatle, Paul McCartney, has his own take on John’s Spain trip with Brian. According to Paul, the trip’s purpose was for John to assert who the real leader of the Beatles was with Brian. That John took Brian on the holiday “…to make sure Mr. Epstein knew who to listen to in this group”. It is interesting that even in these very early Beatles’ days, John and Paul were already jockeying for an upper hand.
Whatever the case, John and Brian spent 12 days together in Spain. “We used to sit in cafes together”, recalled John, “looking at the boys. I’d say, ‘do you like that one? Do you like this one?’ …I was rather enjoying the experience, thinking like a writer all the time.”
The details of the trip were sketchy, at best, but soon John and Brian had returned and were ready to get back to the business of making Beatles records, performing concerts, and making appearances. But in Liverpool, the “gay” rumors were now intensely swirling. Things came to a head with a disc jockey the Beatles knew named Bob Wooler (1926-2002).
Wooler was a very close friend of the Beatles and had introduced them on stage some 300 times. This incident happened at Paul’s 21st birthday party, on June 18, 1963. At the party, Wooler was joking around with John and said (with heavy gay intimations): “Come on John, what really happened with you and Brian? Everybody knows anyway, so tell us.”
John had been heavily drinking that night and Lennon was a notorious “bad drunk”. In a blind rage, John proceeded to beat the stuffing out of a very surprised Bob Wooler, literally kicking him repeatedly in the ribs as he lay on the ground in a bloody heap.
According to John, the only reason he actually stopped the savage beating was because, “I realized I was actually going to kill him… I just saw it like a screen. If I hit him once more, that’s really going to be it. I really got shocked and for the first time thought: ‘I can kill this guy.’”
Wooler was rushed to the hospital by Brian, who was also present at Paul’s party, and given treatment for a variety of things, including broken ribs. Luckily for John Lennon- and the Beatles’ future amazing run- Wooler survived the ordeal.
Incredibly, John refused to apologize. “He called me a bloody queer, and I bashed in his ribs for it”, he said defiantly. Because of this refusal to apologize, Brian had a writer for The Daily Mirror, Don Short, send a telegram on John’s behalf, apologizing. The telegram read, “Really sorry Bob. Terribly sorry for what I have done. What more can I say? -Signed, John Lennon” In addition to that, a payment of 200 pounds (around $2200 today) was also given as compensation.
Despite their very recent fame in Europe in musical circles, this incident actually got the Beatles their first national press coverage in England in an article in the Daily Mirror. (One can easily imagine what kind of coverage an incident like this would have gotten nowadays, with our current tabloids, twitter, and the blogosphere. And, of course, had Bob Wooler not been the forgiving type, he could easily have raked John over the coals, but chose not to. Or what if John had actually killed Wooler by perhaps kicking him a few more times with Wooler’s broken ribs perhaps puncturing his lungs? It would have finished the Beatles as we remember them right there, not to mention the fact that John Lennon would have been sent to prison for murder!)
Despite the severity of the incident and the coverage in the Daily Mirror, the incident was soon forgotten and the Beatles went on to conquer the musical world.
The one murky question for Beatles fans is obviously “Did John and Brian really?…” Beatles fans and aficionados have been debating the question all these years later.
In 1971, in his classic “Rolling Stone” interview, John stated that of all the Beatles he “was the closest to Brian”. (was this one of John’s inside jokes, did he really mean?…) John later briefly commented on the lingering question about Brian and himself shortly before his tragic death in 1980. “It was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was not consummated. But it was a pretty intense relationship”, he said.
About the gay accusations setting him off, Lennon went on to add, “You know, when you’re 21, you want to be a man. If someone said it now, I wouldn’t give a shit”. (1980). But at the time, John was a very macho, young rock star and he had to prove it to everyone.
One marvels when looking at the incredible, unbelievable career of John Lennon- and the Beatles- at just how close it all came to going up in smoke, because of a needless, drunken beating, all those years ago at a birthday party.
While he may or may not had a romantic encounter with Brian Epstein, Lennon definitely also loved the ladies. In 1968, he confessed to his first wife, Cynthia, that he had had over 300 extra-marital affairs with women during their six-year marriage. He may have been underestimating himself.
I have not been able to locate the Newsweek actively “Straight Jacket” at the centre of this 2010 controversy…though from what I can gather this is a reproduction.
This story was first posted on the Web on April 26, 2010.
The reviews for the broadway revival of Promises, Promises were negative enough, even though most of the critics ignored the real problem—the big pink elephant in the room. The leading man of this musical-romantic comedy is supposed to be an advertising peon named Chuck, who is madly in love with a co-worker (Kristin Chenoweth). When the play opened on Broadway in 1968, Jerry Orbach, an actor with enough macho swagger to later fuel years and years of Law & Order, was the star. The revival hands the lead over to Sean Hayes, best known as the queeny Jack on Will & Grace. Hayes is among Hollywood’s best verbal slapstickers, but his sexual orientation is part of who he is, and also part of his charm. (The fact that he came out of the closet only just before Promises was another one of those Ricky Martin “duh” moments.) But frankly, it’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, as if he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is. Even the play’s most hilarious scene, when Chuck tries to pick up a drunk woman at a bar, devolves into unintentional camp. Is it funny because of all the ’60s-era one-liners, or because the woman is so drunk (and clueless) that she agrees to go home with a guy we all know is gay?
This is no laughing matter, however. For decades, Hollywood has kept gay actors—Tab Hunter, Van Johnson, Richard Chamberlain, Rock Hudson, etc.—in the closet, to their detriment. The fear was, if people knew your sexual orientation, you could never work again. Thankfully, this seems ridiculous in the era of Portia de Rossi and Neil Patrick Harris. But the truth is, openly gay actors still have reason to be scared. While it’s OK for straight actors to play gay (as Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger did in Brokeback Mountain), it’s rare for someone to pull off the trick in reverse. De Rossi and Harris do that on TV, but they also inhabit broad caricatures, not realistic characters like the ones in Up in the Air or even The Proposal. Last year, Rupert Everett caused a ruckus when he told The Guardian that gay actors should stay in the closet. “The fact is,” he said, “that you could not be, and still cannot be, a 25-year-old homosexual trying to make it in the?.?.?.?film business.” Is he just bitter or honest? Maybe both.
Most actors would tell you that the biographical details of their lives are beside the point. Except when they’re not. As viewers, we are molded by a society obsessed with dissecting sexuality, starting with the locker-room torture in junior high school. Which is why it’s a little hard to know what to make of the latest fabulous player to join Glee: Jonathan Groff, the openly gay Broadway star. In Spring Awakening, he showed us that he’s a knockout singer and a heartthrob. But on TV, as the shifty glee captain from another school who steals Rachel’s heart, there’s something about his performance that feels off. In half his scenes he scowls—is that a substitute for being straight? When he smiles or giggles, he seems more like your average theater queen, a better romantic match for Kurt than for Rachel. It doesn’t help that he tried to bed his girlfriend while singing (and writhing to) Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” He is so distracting I’m starting to wonder if Groff’s character on the show is supposed to be secretly gay.
This is admittedly a complicated issue for the gay community, though it is not, in fact, a uniquely gay problem. In the 1950s the idea of “colorblind casting” became a reality, and the result is that today there’s nothing to stop Denzel Washington from playing the Walter Matthau role in the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. Jack Nicholson, by the force of his charm, makes you forget how he’s entirely too old to win Helen Hunt’s heart in As Good as It Gets. For gay actors, why should sexual orientation limit a gay actor’s choice of roles? The fact is, an actor’s background does affect how we see his or her performance—which is why the Denzels or the Tom Hanks-es of the world guard their privacy carefully.
It’s not just a problem for someone like Hayes, who tips off even your grandmother’s gaydar. For all the beefy bravado that Rock Hudson pro-jects onscreen, Pillow Talk dissolves into a farce when you know the likes of his true bedmates. (Just rewatch the scene where he’s wading around in a bubble bath by himself.) Lesbian actresses might have it easier—since straight men think it’s OK for them to kiss a girl and like it—but how many of them can you name? Cynthia Nixon had a male partner when she originated Miranda on Sex and the City, Kelly McGillis was straight when she steamed up Top Gun’s sheets, and Anne Heche went back to dating men (including her Men in Trees costar); we believed their characters before their sexuality became an issue. If an actor of the stature of George Clooney came out of the closet tomorrow, would we still accept him as a heterosexual leading man? It’s hard to say. Or maybe not. Doesn’t it mean something that no openly gay actor like that exists?
Newsweek’s Setoodeh Responds to ‘Straight Jacket’ Backlash
As BroadwayWorld has previously reported, in a recent Newsweek article, Ramin Setoodeh posed the question: “Heterosexual actors play gay all the time. Why doesn’t it ever work in reverse?”
Setoodeh went on to state that Sean Hayes, currently starring in the Broadway revival of PROMISES, PROMISES, cannot come across as straight in the role. He writes “Hayes is among Hollywood’s best verbal slapstickers, but his sexual orientation is part of who he is, and also part of his charm. (The fact that he only came out of the closet just before Promises was another one of those Ricky Martin-duh moments.) But frankly, it’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, like he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is. Even the play’s most hilarious scene, when Chuck tries to pick up a drunk woman at a bar, devolves into unintentional camp. Is it funny because of all the ’60s-era one-liners, or because the woman is so drunk (and clueless) that she agrees to go home with a guy we all know is gay?”
The comments have drawn the wrath of many, including Hayes’ PROMISES co-star Kristin Chenoweth, who authored a strongly worded response. Writes the actress: “I was shocked on many levels to see Newsweek publishing Ramin Setoodeh’s horrendously homophobic “Straight Jacket,” which argues that gay actors are simply unfit to play straight. From where I stand, on stage, with Hayes, every night — I’ve observed nothing “wooden” or “weird” in his performance, nor have I noticed the seemingly unwieldy presence of a “pink elephant” in the Broadway Theater.”
Cheyenne Jackson and Michael Urie – openly gay actors themselves – weighed in at a Temperamentals Talk back, afterelton.com reported, calling Setoodeh an outright “asshole” and “unconscionable.”
Said Jackson, “It was infuriating on so many levels. Not only does [Setoodeh] say that a gay man can’t play straight, he got personal, picking on Sean Hayes in Promises, Promises, [pointing out] certain scenes where he thinks [Sean] is stiff and uncomfortable…It was very veiled self-loathing. Really upsetting…Everytime we go forward, some asshole like this takes us back a bit.”
Added Urie: “We’re all actors, and the audiences get it. When I saw Sean Hayes in Promises, Promises, it was a full house and everyone was completely in love with him…And to attack, to quote Ugly Betty, someone [like Groff] recently ‘hatched from the gay egg’ is unconscionable and he should strung [up]. [Groff] made everyone want him in Spring Awakening. And Cheyenne was f*cking Elvis in All Shook Up. He was sexy and hot. He’s always playing straight. And people buy tickets to see him. No straight critics accuse Sean Penn of not being able to play Harvey Milk or [criticize] Tom Hanks in Philadelphia.”
Setoodeh has just released a response on Newsweek.com in defense of his original article:
“I wrote an essay in the May 10 issue of NEWSWEEK called “Straight Jacket” examining why, as a society, it’s often hard for us to accept an openly gay actor playing a straight character. You can disagree with me if you like, but when was the last time you saw a movie starring a gay actor? The point of my essay was not to disparage my own community, but to examine an issue that is being swept under the rug…
But what all this scrutiny seemed to miss was my essay’s point: if an actor of the stature of George Clooney came out of the closet today, would we still accept him as a heterosexual leading man?…
I realize this is a complicated subject matter, but the Internet sometimes has a way of oversimplfying things. My article became a straw man for homophobia and hurt in the world. If you were pro-gay, you were anti-NEWSWEEK. Chenoweth’s argument that gay youth need gay role models is true, but that’s not what I was talking about. I was sharing my honest impression about a play that I saw. If you don’t agree with me, I’m more than happy to hear opposing viewpoints. But I was hoping to start a dialogue that would be thoughtful-not to become a target for people who twisted my words. I’m not a conservative writer with an antigay agenda. I don’t hate gay people or myself.”
The headquarters of the Catholic church is a closely guarded city-state – centuries old and resistant to change. Can Pope Francis drag it into the 21st century? (Guardian photographer Christian Sinibaldi was given unprecedented access to his world. Words by Paula Cocozza)
The man holding the keys might have wandered into a fairytale. He faces a pair of towering doors whose knocker is larger than his head. In his hand, the giant hoop clatters as he feels his way towards No 401; it enters the keyhole with a clear, sharp clang. The man starts to push and light from inside the room falls across his shoes.
At 6.30am, the Vatican is awakening. In a few hours, the room Alessio Censoni has just opened, the Sala Rotonda, will be packed with tourists. But, for now, the building is coming to life with workers. Chatter blows along the corridors. Together with four shift-mates, Censoni continues his round of unlocking: 300 doors to go.
Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has repeatedly praised the dignity of labour (in Buenos Aires, he once did a stint as a bouncer). Group by group, he has invited the Vatican’s 4,800 employees to mass in Casa Santa Marta, the guesthouse where he lives. In January, he baptised Censoni’s daughter. What can his employees – hastening to the clocking-in machine, past the sleepy security guard in a North Face hoodie – tell us about working alongside the pontiff?
The cleverness of Pope Francis has been to advance the message of Christ simply by being human himself. He has brought divine office down to earth with a revolution in tone. Famously, he is the first pope to use the word “gay” (“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”). He has described the pay gap between men and women as “pure scandal”, advised Catholics that they needn’t breed “like rabbits”, and called priests who refuse to baptise the children of single mothers “animals”. He has washed the feet of young prisoners. In this sense, Pope Francis is a parable in action.
If his predecessor Pope Benedict was perceived as aloof and scholastic, this pope wears a full-faced grin and wields a thumbs-up. But while he is seen as progressive, Francis’s reform of the curia – the church’s central government, which he has castigated for its insularity and back-biting – is moving slowly. And despite the apparent liberalism of his speeches, the official teaching remains mostly intact: abortion is still “absolute evil”, homosexual acts a sin, gay marriage firmly opposed. Francis has managed to suggest a radical agenda by putting the theme of mercy at the heart of everything he does: in countless speeches, pronouncements and even the current “extraordinary jubilee” year. It’s a message that has secular appeal (who doesn’t believe in compassion?), and it has allowed the pope to sidestep a confrontation with the church’s more conservative forces, by encouraging local priests to use their own discretion.
But still the Vatican remains highly secretive, a world in miniature; packed into its 0.44 sq km is everything a state needs, only smaller. Beyond its museums and St Peter’s Basilica, the frontiers are well guarded. There are high walls, and the famous bank is housed inside an old fortress. The fire engines are the size of minibuses. Under Pope John Paul II, the cinema was busy, but the chairs are now stacked and it looks disused. There is even a tiny jail, used to detain the priest convicted in July for his part in the latest Vatileaks scandal exposing financial mismanagement and corruption at the city’s heart. Petrol costs a minuscule 40 cents a litre, compared with €1.40 over the border in Rome.
[He] says these things, catchy phrases, which are less than 140 characters, so they naturally fit on Twitter
At one of these roadside pumps, the Popemobile is being refuelled. Renzo Cestiè, chatting to the attendant, is Pope Francis’s senior driver. He was second driver for Benedict, “but we had a whole different fleet then”, he says. “We had an armoured Mercedes, an armoured Popemobile. Pope Francis doesn’t want them. He wants contact with the people. See?” He lifts a protective cover to reveal a Popemobile with tinted windows. “This was used by JohnPaul II and Benedict, but the Holy Father fears nothing.” And what about his driver? “I don’t feel fear,” he shrugs. “If it happens, we go to paradise.”
Cestiè sensed that his job was changing from day one. Sent to collect the newly elected pope from his pensione in central Rome, he waited by the entrance in a Mercedes. “An official came rushing out, saying, ‘Take it away!’ Because the pope wanted to get the bus with his cardinals. He said, ‘Do you mind if I go with my friends?’ We didn’t know then that he hated luxury. We didn’t stop to think that these cars weren’t made for him.”
For the first few weeks, Cestiè, who is 62 and has worked at the Vatican since he was 14, reported for duty in fancy cars. Then the pope visited his garage to see the options for himself, settling on a blue Ford Focus and the smallest, most open Popemobile. Cestiè thumps its bonnet. “For us it was a wonderful thing, the Holy Father so humble.” Now Benedict’s Mercedes is boxed in at the back of the garage, its roof covered with a sheet of bubblewrap.
Cestiè flips open the Popemobile’s glove box, where a white towel is stowed to dry the pope on rainy days. As a rule, he says, the vehicle should feature the papal coat of arms, but the paintwork glints with Benedict’s golden emblem. “Pope Francis doesn’t like crests.” He also insists on shutting his own door. Cestiè lets slip a reference to the pope’s “butlers”, or assistants, and then corrects himself. “He doesn’t want to call them butlers, because we are all the same. We are people who collaborate with him.”
The pope is a quiet passenger who shuns the car radio, he says. But every now and then, Cestiè will glance in his rearview mirror and find his passenger’s gaze. “I always look away,” he says. When Francis meets his eye, “it is as if, in that moment, he looks inside you and he knows who you are”. His voice cracks, the silence eventually broken by his mobile ringtone: Barry White’s Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe.
Pushed to name the biggest change since Francis was elected, Cestiè’s answer is surprisingly pragmatic: it’s his work-life balance. Unlike Benedict’s retired driver, “who was always here, every day, every holiday”, Cestiè works a six-hour shift. “The Holy Father wouldn’t want it. He is the first to say, ‘Why aren’t you resting today?’”
It is a five-minute walk from Cestiè’s carport to the lavish apostolic palace, past the fire engines where the firemen still lean on the bonnet. This is where Benedict lived as pope, and where Francis holds meetings. Sun pours through the windows, making latticed shadows on the wall. The galleried walkways glimmer with the clean, faint fragrance of undisturbed air. At the clip of approaching footsteps, a Swiss guard materialises around a corner. He can’t talk on duty, he says (and this afternoon he is captaining FC Guardia in a match against a Gypsy team), but he promises to meet tomorrow.
He doesn’t want to call them butlers, because we are all the same. We are people who collaborate with him
In the Sala Regia, a vast antechamber to the Sistine Chapel, workers are packing portraits of 19th-century popes into removal crates after an exhibition. Just off this room is the apostolic sacristy where Father Pavel Benedik, a taciturn Slovakian priest, is fiddling with his smartphone. He is the custodian here, and calm prevails. In an hour, the phone rings once. The room is lined with polished wardrobes, a hive of numbered wooden doors in which every item has its place, and every place has a label. Vestments are stowed by size (Pope Francis takes a 3, the most popular) and the drawers are taped with old-fashioned embossed strips: “X IL PAPA [for the pope]”, “VIMPE STOLE [shawls, stoles]”.
Helping Father Pavel is Father Jesus Polentino, 30, from Venezuela. He was ordained just as Benedict resigned, so for him the election of an Argentinian pope felt particularly auspicious. “The first Latin American pope,” he says. “They went to the end of the world to find him. That means that even we, who are from the end of the world, can arrive at the heart of this church.”
Or maybe the heart, its centre, is moving outwards? “Only the style changes a bit,” Father Pavel says. He withdraws a bent cross crosier from a nearby cupboard and lays it next to the original on which it was modelled. This crucifix-topped staff fell into disuse under Benedict, but it has been revived, to the distaste of some Catholics, who find its depiction of Jesus’s suffering too brutal. “Almost the same,” Father Pavel says, looking at the two. And they are, only the Christ in Francis’s version has even thinner legs. Suffering is not something from which he shies away.
At 6pm, it is rush hour in the Vatican. Cars file along the road behind the palace of the governatorato, a sort of mayoral building opposite which Francis’s crest has been clipped out of box hedging; maybe it was planted before he made his wishes clear. Nuns unload shopping trolleys into their car boots by the supermarket, and a crowd gathers at the pharmacy where a promotional stand offers samples of Avène skincare. Outside the Swiss Guard barracks, the air is thick with sweat and deodorant. The young soldiers who guard the pope have just finished a football match.
Just beyond the Vatican gates, Father Federico Lombardi, 73, shows the way to his office, up marble stairs, through a room stacked floor-to-ceiling with boxes of paper and ink. For 10 years until this summer, he served as the pope’s spokesperson (though he rejects that title, because “the pope can speak for himself”), working with John Paul II, Benedict and the current pope.
What has Francis been like? “He is a volcano!” Lombardi says, settling into his swivel chair. “This dynamism – no one expected this. Not even him! He is very creative, he has lots of initiatives.”
These have included choosing to launch the pope’s “holy year of mercy” at Bangui cathedral in Central African Republic, rather than Rome. Then there were the 11 Syrian migrants he brought back to Rome from Lesbos in April. Not to mention the free-form press conferences, the reinvigorated synod of bishops, which is devolving power to the regions, and the council of cardinal advisers tasked with reforming the curia. Twelve times in an hour, Lombardi describes Francis as “dynamic” – but would he say the pontiff is a reformer?
“Let’s say he has given a strong impetus to putting us on the road, no? When he speaks about the church ‘going out’, he means a church that is not inside the walls defending itself, not self-referential,” Lombardi replies, cupping his hands as if to enclose a tiny city. “That definitely is a sense he has given us. The church on the road – and, in this sense, I accept the definition of reformer.”
You can almost feel the volcano cool as Lombardi speaks, though such circumspection comes with the territory. “There is what one might call a turf war going on,” Austen Ivereigh, author of Pope Francis: The Great Reformer, explains. “The different departments have their own fiefdom. That’s what he is setting out to change.” Nine communication teams have become one. This month, the Vatican ministries of family, laity and life, which have always overlapped, will merge. Others will follow. Ivereigh calls this “the biggest redesign of the curia in 30 years. It’s radical in the sense that Francis is introducing collegiality, which is allowing the local church to have a much greater say. The reordered Vatican will be a slimmer, more focused structure.”
Crucially, there will be financial reform. Last December, the Vatican appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers as its external auditor. But in April the audit was suspended; the Vatican has since announced that its own Office of the Auditor General, created by Pope Francis, will conduct the audit with PwC in “an assisting role”.
Lombardi waves away these subjects as “very particular arguments. I am not sure it’s worth going into them. The suspension of the deal with Pricewater…” he trails off, apparently having forgotten the name. “If you do a contract for three years, that costs €3m, that looks at all the central institutions – it can happen that you need to correct the odd thing.”
He thinks Francis’s reforms have had “partial results. Certain things are already seeing positive results, but others are still a little in train.”
How difficult is it to bring about change? “Exactly like in all the organisations of the world. I have been here 25 years. I know how things are done and why they are done. If someone comes along and says, ‘Now we are changing everything’, I say, ‘Look, perhaps you haven’t yet understood what we do and why we do it.’ Perhaps I make one or two objections. Is this resistance because I don’t want to change anything, or is it because I simply want to make you understand what we have done and why?”
The swivel chair is in a state of agitation now, and Lombardi’s shoulders rise and fall in frustration. “I have always found it very simplistic, the way the world is divided between those who want to make things better and those who resist, because they want to conserve their power. If anyone says this about the Vatican, they are saying an idiocy. Perhaps in 3,000 people, you will have three or four who will say, ‘I lose my power!’, and lots of others who will say, ‘No, let’s discuss what we want to change.’ There should be a discussion.
“These ones here, when they came,” he says, casting around for the name of another, previous consultant. “It was very interesting for me: McKinsey. We worked with much friendship and serenity. But at the start,” he says, dropping his voice, “they knew absolutely nothing. They didn’t know about shortwave radio! They had not the least idea, while we had worked on it for 80 years. Do you understand? It’s great to draw up new plans. But there is also a dialogue to be had.” He laughs. “I had the impression I taught them more than they did me.”
As director of communications for an outspoken pope, one imagines Lombardi’s job became tougher with Pope Francis. But, no, he says, it was harder under John Paul II. “For the last five or six years, he was in a chair and didn’t say a word.” And Benedict was also “less concrete in his communication, so it was more challenging”. Pope Francis, meanwhile, has “a great gift” for speaking directly. He “says these things, catchy phrases, which are less than 140 characters, so they naturally fit on Twitter. In this type of communication, Francis is ideal. It’s as if he were made for the purpose.”
The sky is darkening through Lombardi’s office window. “Instead of going about with complete indifference, feeling the church is out of step with the times,” he adds, “Francis has made it closer, more present, with all the suffering and difficulty that humanity experiences today.”
In St Peter’s Square, crowds have gathered, chatting, chanting, singing a cappella. Soon Pope Francis will descend the steps and faithful hands will grasp the air around him. Renzo Cestiè’s mother will be watching on TV. A murmur rises. An elderly man is pushing a wheelchair; his son, Carmelo, who lost speech and movement after a stroke, sits with a white cap on his lap. He hopes that Pope Francis will wear it. People shout, “Carmelo! Over here!” They know that where a wheelchair is parked, Francis will come.
A cry of “Fran-cis-co! Fran-cis-co!” breaks from the crowd. The pope is coming. Carmelo is bringing him to us. The pope looks thrilled. He is beaming as if he has been waiting for this. He stoops, eyes crinkled, and clasps Carmelo’s head so eagerly, his fingers disappear into his thick hair. Spotting the cap, he gives a magician’s grin and plucks off his own by a tassel. Ta-da! In its place he puts Carmelo’s. He presses it down, to make sure that whatever goodness rises from his head will stick to Carmelo’s cap. He smiles again – something is happening – and returns the cap; the delight on his face suggests that it is he who has met Carmelo, and not Carmelo who has met the pope. The crowd roars. People wipe their eyes. Carmelo has been hugged and it feels like a hug for all. A new chant breaks out. “Car-mel-o! Car-mel-o!” The pope climbs into his jeep, black trousers showing through his white robe. Underneath it all, they seem to say, he is just a parish priest.
Speak to those who work with Francis, and the stories of countless acts of consideration mount (though he could send the nuns help with the ironing). Alessio Censoni, the key-keeper, knows that the rumours the pope encouraged women to breastfeed in the Sistine Chapel are true: at Censoni’s daughter’s christening, when babies wailed, he turned to the mothers and asked, ‘Can’t you hear they’re crying? Feed them tranquilly.”
He asks us … if we’re hungry, if we want to sit down. On my first night shift, he offered me a biscuit
“Yes, I’ve heard that one,” says Filippo Petrignani, who works in the museum’s rights office. “But there are loads. Of him taking a coffee from the vending machine. With coins.” Petrignani rattles off the stories like jokes. “Last summer: ‘Father, it’s very hot in Rome. Would you like to go out of the city for a week?’ ‘And how many people would I have to move to go out of the city? Hmm. We’ll stay at home. What we save, we’ll give to the poor.’”
In another anecdote, Pope Francis offers a chair to a Swiss Guard. “That’s true,” says guard Nico Castelluzzo, today sitting in the visitors’ mess, just after lunch, his colourful livery peeled to the waist to protect the uniform from spatters from his pasta sauce. “It was the same when we did the night shift outside his apartment. He would always ask if we’d slept OK. It took a while for him to understand that we were on duty, that we needed to stay awake. He asks us – he’s a very human person – if we’re hungry, if we want to sit down. On my first night shift, he offered me a biscuit. It tasted good: an Argentinian biscuit.”
According to the Swiss Guards’ website, beneath Castelluzzo’s colourful costume “is actually a state-of-the-art trained Swiss security professional”. So it is surprising to learn that guards are not required to undertake exercise and they have a liberal curfew of 2am (though they are required to shave each day). Castelluzzo passes the solitary hours on duty with a book. “I was never a great reader. I started when I joined the Swiss Guards, so I’m still trying to work out what I like,” he says. Despite the Vatican’s disapproval of its author, he has just finished Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. “Well,” he says, “it’s good to know the opposition.”
Has Pope Francis’s predilection for entering crowds make Castelluzzo worry? “Security is more complicated. Pope Francis is very close to the people. But he knows what risk he takes, and he still wants to do it.” The Swiss Guards work with the carabinieri, Italy’s military police. “But,” Castelluzzo says, “if someone wants to do something, they will surely find a way.” He shrugs. “You need to pray a lot.”
From the guards’ barracks, the road loops around the rear of St Peter’s to reach the basilica’s maintenance division, near the smokers’ corner and the vending machines. Here, Pietro Zander helps oversee the cleaning and maintenance workers (the job that Renzo Cestiè’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather all did). “We continue that which they who came before us started,” Zander says. The St Peter’s Zander knows is not the one most visitors see. There are 22,000 square metres of floor to be cleaned daily. When a shaft of light enters a window, Zander sees “threads of wool, hairs, all this microdust”. He knows the basilica in its vastness and its particulars. But it is also a home. “St Peter’s house,” he says. “Like a house, the door is closed with a key.”
Pope Francis, whom Zander considers “a neighbour”, likes to greet the cleaners in the basilica, but there are other examples of crossover between the devotional side of things and what Zander calls “contingent necessities”. When, for example, John Paul II required a tomb, it was Zander’s department that solved the problem of where to put him by moving the remains of Pope Innocent XI because otherwise, he says with a straight face, “There was a pedestrian traffic problem. The huge flow [of mourners] would have created jams.”
A colleague enters his office. “Have you seen this?” Zander asks, holding up an old chandelier. He is fascinated by the metal grid that protects the bulb. “If the bulb breaks, the glass won’t fall. And if the grid breaks, the grid won’t fall, because look…” He waggles a small metal tie that acts as a second safety catch. “One of the principles of doing things properly in St Peter’s is to look at what has been done before you. Because here perfection has happened that way.” He rests the chandelier on the table. There is an echo of Father Lombardi and his defence of the curia’s right to question change: for both men, precedent should be upheld to protect the future.
Pope Francis’s critics broadly divide into two camps: those who think he is trying to change too much, and those who would like him to do more. Reform is happening slowly, unevenly. His ad hoc gestures and comments can feel like progress, but in other areas – in confronting institutional child abuse, for example, or tackling financial reform – he can seem wanting. And, of course, devolving authority to local churches has empowered conservative as well as liberal voices. As the pope said in an address last Christmas, “We cannot do everything, yet it is liberating to begin.”
It must be hard to reform a structure when the past is seen to confer its own kind of providence. But Pope Francis’s smile has yet to slip and, at 79, he has “an energy unexpected of a person of his age”, Father Lombardi tells me. “I asked him how he did it, how he managed. He said, ‘Well, God asked me to do it and he gives me the strength to do it.’ His Argentinian friends say, ‘But we don’t recognise him! He seems 20 years younger than when he left.’ In his last years in Buenos Aires, he seemed to be preparing for retirement. Instead, he has taken off again – and he pulls us all along.”
He was not faster than a speeding bullet. He was not more powerful than a locomotive. He was not able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
In the great pantheon of characters to emerge from the “Superman” universe — Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Jor-El, General Zod — Jimmy Olsen probably ranks below even Richard Pryor’s wisecracking embezzler in the much-maligned “Superman III.” Jimmy just isn’t that cool. He’s often described as a “cub” reporter. He needs saving more than he saves. He says “Golly.” And he’s sometimes drawn as a redhead.
“Oh, I’m not going in there!” Jimmy whines when hustled into a secret prison after falling prey to the treacherous Von Klaven brothers, identical twins who steal radium, during the 1952 Superman adventure “Double Trouble.” Jimmy’s line when rescued by Man of Steel George Reeves: “Right now, you’re prettier to me than all the movie stars in the world!”
But in a franchise that’s seen its share of tragedy — George Reeves’s reported suicide, Christopher Reeve’s spinal injury — the woes of the actor who played Jimmy in the 1950s went underreported. Jack Larson, who died at 87 on Sunday, was a gifted writer and gay man whose talents and personal struggles were overshadowed by his role as Superman’s flunky.
Even worse: He knew it would turn out this way.
“If I won the Nobel Prize for Literature at 75 and died, they would still say, ‘Jack Larson, best remembered as Jimmy Olsen in the ‘Superman’ series,”’ he said in 1982.
Though Larson never won the Nobel, his swipes at literary greatness were more than the flailing of a teen star gone to seed. Born in California, Larson had dreams of making it big on Broadway as an actor and playwright. After being signed by Warner Brothers while still in high school and a stint in the Marines, the budding thespian found himself at a crossroads.
It was 1951. The old studio system was dying. Though just in his early 20s, Larson had done a few films, but was running out of work — and wanted to get to the Great White Way.
His agent came up with a solution: Play the terrible supporting role of Jimmy Olsen in “Adventures of Superman.”
“I didn’t want to do it,” Larson said, ”but my agent said, ‘Look, you want to get to New York. You don’t have any money. Nobody will ever see this show so take the money and run.”’
Larson did. For $350 an episode, he completed the show and went to the Big Apple. And he was living there when the show he had dismissed became one of the most iconic in TV history — even though it was pretty bad.
“Adventures Of Superman was frequently barely a superhero show — it was more like a dirt-cheap police procedural sprinkled with a few minutes of unconvincing special effects — but it still featured the most famous, popular superhero of all time,” the Onion’s A.V. Club wrote in 2013. “So what else was the nascent geek clan going to watch?”
Larson, meanwhile, became a would-be aesthete fixed in amber as a hapless hanger-on. With a terrible bowtie, no less.
“To me, it was a nightmare,” he said in 2006. “Everywhere I went, it was, ‘Jimmy! Jimmy! Hey, Jimmy, where’s Superman?’ Suddenly, I couldn’t take the bus or the subway anymore. It absolutely freaked me out.”
However, Larson rode the wave. He played Jimmy in 101 episodes of “Adventures of Superman” between 1952 and 1958. And after Reeves’s death — which Larson never believed was a suicide — they tried to get him to do more.
“I refused point blank,” he said. “It made me sick that George had died. He was Superman, and that was the show. I felt, ‘Why go on with it?’ I decided then to quit acting.”
Feeling typecast, he “took up the life of a playwright in New York,” he told the New York Times in 1976 — in a piece that identified him as a “bachelor.”
Larson was far from that. It seemed that one good thing had come of his time as Jimmy: a sexual awakening. While in Hollywood, he became involved with screen legend Montgomery Clift, and met his future longtime companion, director James Bridges (“The Paper Chase,” “The China Syndrome”).
“He realized, in retrospect, that some of his adolescent angst had been due to turmoil over his sexual orientation,” the Times wrote in 1998.
That turmoil would be given voice in “The Relativity of Icarus,” a dance piece that premiered at New York’s prestigious Joffrey Ballet in 1974. Larson wrote a poem that accompanied the work. Four decades ago, what some saw as an attempt to mask gay themes in the charged relationship between Daedalus and Icarus was met with controversy.
“It is strange in this day of liberation movements that a homosexual pas de deux has to masquerade as a duet between father and son,” the Times wrote.
Amid the “Icarus” publicity, Larson was outed — as Jimmy Olsen. But Jimmy, he found, was no longer repugnant to him. He began to work the TV nostalgia circuit, and was contemplating hosting a tribute show in 1982.
“I want to host it,” he said. ”I want very much to do it — join up my life with Jimmy Olsen. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
In the coming decades, he would produce films directed by Bridges and write more plays. And he would appear in what CNN called “winking roles” in “Superman” fare such as “Superboy,” “Lois & Clark” and the film “Superman Returns.”
His sexuality — once hidden — was now an asset.
“Gay fans are gushing over the fact that the director of the new ‘Superman Returns’ (opening June 28) is a gay man, Bryan Singer,” the Chicago Tribune wrote in 2006, “and that, besides the fact that Superman is a real hunk, a new trading card featuring scenes from the film shows the big guy — get this! — actually emerging from a closet.”
The paper, noting Larson’s sexual orientation, added: “What was fun about that show was just the ambiguity of it all. It wouldn’t have mattered if Clark was secretly in love with a co-worker named Lois or Louis Lane.”
Somehow, Larson had ended up with it all: a literary career bolstered by his status as a pop-culture footnote, and both inextricably linked to his life as a gay man.
In some ways, Jimmy had given it to him.
“Everywhere I go, I get the warmest feelings from people about Jimmy,” he said. “They love him, and I grew to feel that I could never have done anything more special than be Jimmy Olsen.”
Los Angeles: Actor and playwright Jack Larson (1928–2015) died yesterday at the age of 87. Best known for his role as Jimmy Olsen, Clark Kent’s boy-reporter sidekick in the 1950s television series “Superman,” Larson met his longtime partner, film producer James Bridges, in 1957; they had been a couple for nearly four decades when Bridges died in 1993.
For many years, Larson and Bridges shared a home in the Brentwood Heights neighborhood. Known as the Sturges House, the structure was designed in 1939 by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. “It was obvious to anyone that since we lived together we were partners,” Larson told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. “We always went places together. We never pretended.'”
Located at 449 Skyway Road, Sturges House is formally listed as a Historic-Cultural Monument by the City of Los Angeles. Larson continued living in the house until his death.
Knowing the Sturges House
I first encountered Frank Lloyd Wright’s Sturges House in courses in the History of Architecture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where I was a graduate student in the 1960s. This was indisputably “FLW Country.” He had been born nearby in 1867 in Richland Center, Wisconsin and had lived as a child and teenager and had gone to high school in Madison and had then matriculated as “special student” at the University of Wisconsin. Long after that he had built “Taliesin,” his great longtime home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin, northwest of Madison. In 1937, also in Madison, Wright had built his first so-called “Usonian” house for Herbert and Katherine Jacobs, a small, wood and brick, two bedroom, flat-roofed, moderately-priced structure that took its name from various sources, including a play on “US-ian.” It was followed, in the late 1930s and 1940s, by other Usonians in Wisconsin, and in neighboring Illinois and Michigan. Wright’s similar, though distinctive, Sturges house (1939) in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles is generally considered to be his “California Usonian.”
When, in 1968, I received an appointment at UCLA to teach urban, architectural and cultural history, I was fortunate to live first in the 1937 Strathmore Apartments in Westwood, designed by Richard Neutra, one of Wright’s already famous former apprentices—about whom I would soon begin to write a book. At the same time, I began to explore Los Angeles architecture, including ten Neutra structures in Westwood alone and not far away, in neighboring Brentwood: Wright’s great Sturges house. Unlike the generally flat sites of the Usonians in the Middle West, I was surprised to find the Sturges residence perched high on a steep lot among rolling hills. Eager to explore this treasure, I unabashedly knocked on the door one day and was cordially welcomed by its owners, the film director James Bridges and his longtime partner, the actor and writer Jack Larson.
Bridges (1936–1993) directed such acclaimed films as: The Paper Chase (1973), The China Syndrome (1979), and Urban Cowboy (1980). Larson (1928–2015) was best known–to his eternal dismay–for his role as Jimmy Olsen, the cub reporter, in the long-developing series Adventures of Superman. He always lamented that he was not as well known for the libretto he wrote for his and Virgil Thomson’s opera Lord Byron (1972). The couple acquired the house in 1967 and lived there together until Bridges’ death in 1993. Larson continued to inhabit it alone until his death in 2015.
Jim and Jack were the first to tell me of how the Sturgeses were told that it was medically impossible for them to have children and how, as a consolation, they decided to commission a house by Wright, whom they had long admired. It was an ideal cottage for two people, but soon after they moved in, Mrs. Sturges realized that she was, in fact, pregnant. Wright altered the house design to accommodate a nursery. But after another child came along, the couple gave up their dream house and moved around the corner to a larger residence. Their name, however, would always be attached to their Wright-designed home as it went through several owners until Bridges and Larson acquired it.
Built of steel, concrete, brick and wood, the house is approached from the west at the rear just off the carport at the top of the hill. Visitors could either proceed around the encircling deck to enter through the living room on the eastern side or, as most did, through the small kitchen to the west. With less square footage than the Usonians in the Middle West, the house contains a relatively large living-dining room, two small bedrooms, and one bath on the main level. Tiny stairs lead up to the roof deck and down into the windowless basement, which Bridges used as a dark room and studio. In 1939, Wright had deputized his recent Taliesin disciple, John Lautner, to complete final details of the design and to supervise construction. Both Wright and Lautner created specially designed furniture and other accouterments, such as lamps. Small cabinet spaces were cleverly concealed behind fold-out wall panels. Larson and Bridges would also enjoy pointing out various movie treasures they had acquired over the years such as the actual wrench used by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936).
The house was long enjoyed by such Hollywood visitors as writer Gore Vidal and director John Houseman as well as by actors Jane Fonda and Debra Winger, who starred in Bridges’ films and continued to be friends. Jack and Jim also seemed happy to open the house to admiring architecture people such as historians Vincent Scully and Colin Rowe, museum curators Arthur Drexler and Carter Brown, and architects Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, Richard Weinstein, Jaque Robertson and Frank Israel. The house thus had several incarnations in the public imagination, first, as it was initially published in the Forties and Fifties and again in later years after it had become so famous that it seemed indispensable to any publication on Wright or on modernist Los Angeles.
It remains a vitally significant monument in the history of both.
Hijras occupy a special place in Hinduism. But their relationship to modern Mumbai, where transgender people are legally recognized, remains fraught.
MUMBAI, India — When Lord Rama was exiled from Ayodhya and his entire kingdom began to follow him into the forest, he told his disciples: “Men and women, please wipe your tears and go away.”
So they left. Still, a group of people stayed behind, at the edge of the forest, because they were neither men nor women. They were hijras, which in Urdu means something like eunuchs. Those people waited in the woods for 14 years until Lord Rama returned, which won them a special place in Hindu mythology. There’s a bit of a mystery about the story’s origin — scholars say it’s not in the early versions of ancient Hindu texts — but in the past century this folk tale about the hijras’ loyalty has become an important piece of their identity. Hijras figure prominently in India’s Muslim history as well, serving as the sexless watchdogs of Mughal harems.
Today hijras, who include transgender and intersex people, are hard to miss. Dressed in glittering saris, their faces heavily coated in cheap makeup, they sashay through crowded intersections knocking on car windows with the edge of a coin and offering blessings. They dance at temples. They crash fancy weddings and birth ceremonies, singing bawdy songs and leaving with fistfuls of rupees.
Many Indians believe hijras have the power to bless or curse, and hijras trade off this uneasy ambivalence.
Gurvinder Kalra, a psychiatrist who has studied the hijra community, recalled the time when a troupe showed up uninvited at his nephew’s birth.
“The first thing people said was, ‘Oh my God, the hijras are here.’” Then there was a nervous pause, he said. Then laughter.
“There is this mixture of negativity and positivity, a laughter, a fear, this sense they are oddities,” Dr. Kalra said.
Behind the theatrics are often sad stories — of the sex trade and exploitation, cruel and dangerous castrations, being cast out and constantly humiliated. Within India’s L.G.B.T. community, the hijras maintain their own somewhat secretive subculture.
Radhika, a hijra living near a railway station in Mumbai, didn’t think of herself as different until she started school, a chapter of her life that did not last long. After being teased by other children, she realized she wasn’t exactly a girl, but she wasn’t a boy either. Her mother told her not to dwell on it.
“She told me, ‘You’re a girl. Stick to it.’”
It hasn’t been easy for Radhika. Her parents split up when she was young, and her mother died soon afterward. None of her relatives wanted to take care of her. After she was essentially abandoned , an older prostitute discovered her and put her to work in a garbage-strewn park selling sex. She was 8.
A decade and a half later, Radhika is still a sex worker. She wears dark saris, chipped purple nail polish, a gold ring in her left nostril and her hair down the middle of her back.
When asked how she feels each evening as she heads off to work, to stand in a line of other prostitutes along the railway tracks, waiting for customers, she shrugged.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I learned the world runs on money,” she said. “I learned that if I don’t have money, I don’t exist.’’
In many ways, Radhika’s story is no rougher, lonelier or more desperate than those of many other hijras. Many are engaged in sex work, locked into service for a guru who takes most of their earnings.
Radhika wouldn’t utter her guru’s name. She seemed scared to talk about her. Within the hijra world, gurus fulfill the hybrid role of den mother, godfather, spiritual leader and pimp. The gurus are hijras as well, usually in their 40s or 50s.
There is a bit of a pyramid sales scheme within the hijra community. Younger “chelas,” or disciples, are managed by midranking hijras who report up to gurus, who are often steered by their own elder mentors. For every hijra, the idea is to get as many chelas working for you as possible. The money flows up; the protection from abusive customers or police officers flows down.
When I tried to interview a guru in Radhika’s neighborhood, the guru shook her head and said she had to get permission from her guru.
But one guru opened up. She lives on the second floor of a slum house in Mumbai, up a narrow metal ladder, like on a ship. Different from Radhika and most hijras, who spend their years in small, airless shanties with the smell of feces wafting through cracks in the walls, this guru, who calls herself Chandini, rents a relatively large apartment. She sat on a cleanly swept floor, slumped against a Whirlpool fridge.
“These days, it’s so much easier to be a hijra,” Chandini said. “Now there are doctors. When I had my sex change, we had to do it ourselves.”
In the past, she said with a sigh, countless young men died from sloppy castrations. They were often performed by people with no medical training.
India has come a long way from that. In some states, such as Kerala, in the south, a person can now get a sex change at a government hospital. A few years ago, India officially recognized transgender as a third gender, eligible for welfare and other government benefits. Not all transgender people are hijras or members of guru families.
Hundreds of years ago, under traditional Hindu culture, hijras enjoyed a certain degree of respect. But Victorian England changed that. When the British colonized India in the mid-19th century, they brought a strict sense of judgment to sexual mores, criminalizing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” That was the beginning, scholars say, of a mainstream discomfort in India with homosexuality, transgender people and hijras.
Many hijras feel a sense of alienation, of being looked at as freaks. They complain about being heckled, harassed and assaulted. Gurus help the young hijras navigate some of this; their networks of disciples are known as “houses” or “families.” The houses operate a bit like street gangs — they fight over territory for begging and prostitution and settle disputes among themselves, sometimes violently, in the shadows of train stations and slums.
Chandini made no bones about how it worked among her 15 chelas.
“They give me what they earn,” she said.
She even keeps a stack of receipt books, heaped by her TV, so anyone making a donation to a hijra in her neighborhood can keep a record of it.
Puja, a 28-year-old hijra, said she felt a “sisterhood” with the other hijras in her house. Puja seemed a lighter spirit, happy in her own skin. She lives with three other transgender women and they cover their rent by dancing at temples and begging on the street.
“Personally, I don’t want to beg. Nobody wants to beg,” Puja said. “And the situation is worse now for begging. The police harass us. They don’t let us beg anymore on trains. But we aren’t given any other opportunity, and now you ask us not to beg? This is not fair. This is not justice.”
At end of interview, Puja looked at me and asked very earnestly:
“What do transgenders do in your country? Do they do sex work?”
(Jeffrey Gettleman is the South Asia bureau chief, based in New Delhi. He was the winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for international reporting.)
At Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers gave an eloquent summation of why a semen-stained dress and the manifold uses of a cigar had become of such absorbing interest: “HL Mencken said one time, ‘When you hear somebody say, “This is not about money” – it’s about money. And when you hear somebody say, “This is not about sex” – it’s about sex.’”
Many of those involved in Britain’s Profumo affair, which took place 50 years ago, also liked to pretend that it wasn’t really about sex. The allegation to which they repeatedly returned was that the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, 48 years old and married to former actress Valerie Hobson, and a Soviet naval attaché, Yevgeni “Eugene” Ivanov, were sharing the favours of Christine Keeler, a young, beautiful woman who eked out a living by combining erotic dancing and modelling with occasional sex for money. Keeler, who was raised on London’s fringes in a converted railway carriage, met both men at the Cliveden estate of Lord Astor on which her friend, society osteopath Stephen Ward, lived in a cottage. Profumo had been impressed when he and Astor encountered a naked Keeler, trying to shield herself with a towel, at the estate’s swimming pool on a warm July evening in 1961.
That a Tory minister had been involved in some naughtiness was the subject of rumour for several months. While there had been sly hints concerning that minister’s identity in the press, Profumo’s threat of a libel suit managed to keep all but a low-circulation Westminster newsletter in line. But several players in the affair – Keeler, Ward and Mandy Rice-Davies, another “party girl” – were already hawking their stories around Fleet Street. The scandal fully broke on 5 June 1963 when Profumo admitted that he had lied about his relationship with Keeler in an earlier parliamentary statement. Profumo immediately resigned as a minister.
The effect on a conservative government already seen to be reaching its use-by date was dramatic, especially after a blistering attack in the Commons by new Labour leader Harold Wilson. A bewildered Harold Macmillan, the Tory prime minister, never quite seemed to recover from the sordidness of it all, and soon resigned citing ill health (although he would live another 23 years). In the meantime, Macmillan had appointed the eminent judge Lord Denning to investigate the affair’s security ramifications. Denning took his duties seriously, to the extent of arranging for a doctor to inspect a government minister’s penis to see whether it matched one shown being fellated in a photograph. Denning’s published findings, unusually for a government report, became a bestseller.
It was a grubby little book. Richard Davenport-Hines’s fine new account of the scandal, An English Affair (HarperCollins; $35), justly describes the report as “awash with the spite of a lascivious, conceited old man”. Whereas Denning found kindly things to say about Profumo’s loyalty and Astor’s philanthropy, the best he could manage for Keeler was to acknowledge her “undoubted physical attractions”.
Denning could not ignore the fact that Profumo had enjoyed an extramarital affair with a woman less than half his age and then lied about it to both parliament and his party colleagues. Nonetheless, the war minister was spared the lashing that Ward received. An admittedly unattractive figure, whose hobbies included “collecting” aristocrats, celebrities and young, pretty working-class women, Ward served as a convenient scapegoat in the affair. Denning called him “utterly immoral” and a communist sympathiser, and elsewhere accused him of “vicious sexual activities”. In her memoirs, Keeler went so far as to claim he was spying for the Soviets. In August 1963, Ward took his own life during a trial for pimping, a trumped-up charge made to stick through police blackmail of witnesses.
Davenport-Hines has produced a lively book, more than two thirds of which is devoted to establishing the affair’s historical background and main players. Davenport-Hines has no time for the humbug that the scandal was about national security. Rather he sees it as a manifestation of a crisis in a class-bound and hypocritical Britain. In this respect, Davenport-Hines follows other recent scholarship, such as Frank Mort’s Capital Affairs. Mort puts much greater stress on the affair as a product of a changing city, but he is as insistent as Davenport-Hines that the episode was not primarily about its Cold War connections: the scandal crystallised wider apprehensions in Britain about sex, morality, crime, race and gender.
Anxieties about postwar immigration were a critical ingredient. Keeler had relationships with two Caribbean immigrants, “Lucky” Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe, an aspect of the affair that many would later find particularly shocking. In 1963, we are just five years away from Enoch Powell’s notorious “Rivers of Blood” speech, in which the Tory politician warned of the likely violent consequences for British society of mass non-white immigration. The presence in the story of the Caribbean men affected public judgements of Keeler, Ward and even Profumo, connecting Whitehall and Westminster with the unsavoury suburb of Notting Hill. By the early 1960s, this centre of West Indian settlement had acquired a reputation as a hub of violence, prostitution and drugs. The adventurous Keeler and Ward couldn’t resist its offerings of pot and sex. In October 1962, arguing over Keeler, Edgecombe slashed Gordon’s face with a knife in a nightclub. Later, Edgecombe fired shots at Keeler and her companion, Mandy Rice-Davies, after they refused to let him into Ward’s flat.
Keeler and Rice-Davies were not the liberated young women of second-wave feminism, yet nor were they mute and passive victims of the men who wanted to possess them. They sold access to their bodies and their stories because they understood their market value. They were true children of the consumer age. Had Keeler been born 35 years later, says Davenport-Hines, “she would have starred on Celebrity Big Brother and consulted her publicist every time her footballer boyfriend knocked her about”. But, equally, had this troubled working-class girl landed in the Swinging London of 1965 instead of the very different city of 1957, she might well have fallen into a lucrative career in the media or fashion, for she had the look that model Jean Shrimpton was already, by 1963, turning to fame and fortune.
Instead, it was her destiny to be recalled as the “tart” who helped bring down a government. There is a brief comment in Keeler’s recently updated autobiography Secrets and Lies that neatly illustrates how these women were carefully fashioning themselves for the age of celebrity. On trial for perjury, she recalled of herself and Rice-Davies: “We were having our hair done every day for the trial, trying to look our best, at Vidal Sassoon’s in Bond Street.”
This attention to image was not in vain, for the scandal produced one of the most famous photos of the century. The Lewis Morley picture of Keeler sitting naked behind the back of a chair whose lines are almost as sensual and alluring as her own hints at the sexual liberation to come, while leaving enough to the imagination to evoke the more straitlaced era being left behind.
Denning remarked that scandalous material about the famous had turned into “a marketable commodity”. That market was now global. The Australian newspapers of mid 1963 were full of the affair, while models complained about the name of their profession being attached to Keeler: “That tramp never has been and never could be a model,” trilled a former Miss Australia, Patricia Woodley. Pictures of Keeler and Rice-Davies covered the tabloids. The case was debated in serious magazines such as the Bulletin and Nation, and less earnestly among Australia’s schoolchildren, who in a witty playground rhyme calculated that a half a pound of Rice and a half a pound of Keeler added up to one pound of sexy sheila.
Davenport-Hines shows that the Profumo affair was fundamentally a media event. Some newspaper proprietors had scores to settle with the affair’s key players and many journalists were fed up with the government and the self-serving establishment it was seen to embody. Chequebook journalism, which was commonplace, fuelled the scandal, as the major protagonists sought to cash in on their stories. Journalists adopted tactics, such as burglary, that make the phone-hacking scandals of the recent past seem unexceptional.
The media used the Profumo affair as a means of attacking the whole upper class and its way of life. If journalists and newspaper owners were ruthless in their methods, collecting too many innocent victims along the way, there was at least something constructive about the outcome. Old forms of class-based deference were eroded. Women would in future would be able to exercise more independence with less risk. There would be greater sexual freedom. A country that just a few years before looked to have settled in to a decline towards comfortable mediocrity, could once again seem – if only for a few brief years – dynamic, creative and exciting.
The male athletes who’ve come out recently reinforce the obvious: Gay men can be masculine. But people should also be accepting of men, gay or straight, who don’t conform to traditional gender norms.
A couple weeks ago, Mark Carson, a 32-year-old gay man dressed in a tank top, cut-off shorts, and boots, was walking with his friend in the West Village when they were approached by Elliot Morales. “Look at you faggots,” Morales allegedly said. “You look like gay wrestlers.” Morales followed the men down the street shouting anti-gay slurs before fatally shooting Carson at point-blank range just blocks from the Stonewall Inn. Carson’s murder comes at a time when anti-gay crimes in New York City are on the rise, according to the NYPD. There have been 29 reported this year, up from 14 in the same period last year, even as hate crimes overall have declined during that time by almost 30 percent.
This recent uptick in anti-gay violence also comes during the same month that three more states passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage and just weeks after NBA veteran Jason Collins revealed that he is gay—and was largely greeted with open arms by the sports world. Last week, soccer player Robbie Rogers, who had said he would leave the game when he came out back in February because he didn’t “want to deal with the circus,” had a change of heart. When he took the pitch in a Los Angeles Galaxy match on Sunday night, he beat Collins to the punch to become the first openly gay athlete to play in a major U.S. men’s professional sport.
This moment of staggering contradictions seems like a good time to take stock of how far we have—and haven’t—come in dismantling homophobia. And the hopes we pin on these pioneering athletes may offer some key lessons.
Shortly after Collins came out, Brendon Ayanbadejo, former Ravens linebacker and advocate for marriage equality, explained the importance of his announcement on Meet the Press. Of course, given the sheer number of Americans who tune in to watch professional sports, athletes have an unprecedented platform to offer positive representations of LGBT people to large swaths of the population. But Ayanbadejo got to the heart of why the importance of a figure like Jason Collins extends beyond the celebrity factor: “People think gayness has something to do with femininity when really we just need to erase that stereotype from our minds,” he said. “LGBT people come in all different types and shapes and forms.”
As many commentators noted, this helps explain why college basketball phenom Brittney Griner’s casual “coming out” just weeks before Collins’ was greeted with so little fan-fare. The belief that sports—and perhaps team sports particularly—are a masculine endeavor lingers even 40 years after Title IX ushered millions of American women into the game. And since for women, we think gayness “has something to do with” masculinity, we hold the opposing set of assumptions about female athletes: “In sports right now, there are two different stereotypes—that there are no gay male athletes, and every female athlete is a lesbian,” Patrick Burke of the gay sports advocacy group You Can Play explained to the New York Times. The news that Griner, who wore a white tux on her 6-foot-8 frame at the WNBA draft, is gay didn’t fundamentally challenge our notion that sexuality has something to do with gender—and it just confirmed the stereotypes we had about women who excel in sports. As Garance Franke-Ruta put it, “Female professional athletes are already gender non-conforming. Male ones are still worshiped as exemplars of traditional masculinity.”
Within this context, the hope is that a high-profile gay male athlete—or, more realistically, a few of them—could finally smash the stereotype that “gay” equals “unmasculine” once and for all. And, in fact, to some, Collins and Rogers don’t have enough macho mojo to do the trick. Writing at The American Prospect, Joel Anderson argued that Collins’ underwhelming performance on the court has taken away from the potential power of his announcement. The New York Times’s John Branch noted that Major League Soccer is probably only the nation’s fifth-most popular league—and, at least in the American sports landscape, soccer players hardly have an uber-masculine image. (In fact, according to the Onion, soccer became the “world’s first openly gay sport” in 2010.) The real game-changer, Anderson wrote, would be if a player in the NFL, that bastion of “a certain kind of masculinity if not outright machismo,” came out. “Football players are supposed to be our manliest men,” he explained. “Their acceptance of a gay man into that world could go a long way toward unpacking some of the most insidious stereotypes about gay people.
There’s no doubt those are stereotypes that need unpacking. Sociologists have long noted that homophobia is a fundamental ingredient of masculinity in modern American culture. In his seminal 1994 article “Masculinity as Homophobia,” sociologist Michael Kimmel, author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, argued that “homophobia is a central organizing principle of our cultural definition of manhood.” Since homosexuality is associated with femininity, feminizing and anti-gay comments are the primary mechanism for enforcing the boundaries of masculinity. If a guy steps ever so slightly outside of gender norms, his peers will bring him back into line by calling his heterosexuality into question (which implicitly challenges his gender). The pressure to prove and re-prove hetereosexuality is part of what it means to “be a man”—and it pushes men to embrace both homophobia and hypermasculinity. “Homophobia, the fear of being perceived as gay, as not a real man, keeps men exaggerating all the traditional rules of masculinity, including sexual predation with women,” Kimmel wrote. “Homophobia and sexism go hand-in-hand.”
Homophobia, then, is not simply social disapproval and discrimination against gay people, but an entire cultural structure that disqualifying all but the “most virulent repudiators of femininity” from “real manhood”—in the process upholding gender inequality and maintaining a hierarchy of men based on sexuality, race, class, ability, and so on.
It’s entirely understandable, then, why Collins took pains to highlight his masculinity in his Sports Illustrated article announcing the news. “I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I’ve always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn’t make you soft? Who knows? That’s something for a psychologist to unravel.”
But where does that leave the guys who do fit the “gay stereotype”?
After all, while it’s certainly true that not all gay men are “soft,” it’s also true that some of them are. The gay guy who would rather be belting out some Barbra Streisand than shooting hoops is not just a stereotype. He exists, too. He’s probably been spared the awful loneliness and anxiety of living for 34 years without being open about his sexuality to those closest to him, as Collins did, but he probably had less of a choice in the matter. The first time he had an anti-gay slur hurled at him may have happened before he even came out to himself. In fact, like 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, he may only be perceived as gay.
Mainstream gay rights advocates seem largely optimistic that the visibility—and acceptance—of gay male athletes like Collins and Rogers will help that guy, too. “By doing what he did, Jason Collins has extended gay kids a lifeline,” Fred Sainz, VP for communications and marketing for the Human Rights Campaign, told Time. “The message to that gay kid, even if he’s not involved in athletics, is reassuring. Even the jocks are gay. And there’s a message to bullies: gay kids are not second-class citizens.”
But it’s not completely clear that showing that “even the jocks are gay” necessarily makes things better for those guys (gay or straight) who don’t so readily conform to traditional masculine norms. Since gayness and femininity are still so linked, it’s nearly impossible to determine what homophobia’s driving factor is. As Kimmel explained to me, “As long as we think homosexuality is about effeminacy in men—as long as we think we can tell if a guy’s gay if he’s acting ‘feminine’—then we can’t tease it out.” But if that link is successfully broken—say, by the growing visibility of “macho” gay athletes who challenge the stereotype—then it will be possible. “Then the effeminacy part will be about subscribing to gender norms, not revealing anything about your sexual orientation.”
For now, though, it’s hard to say: Is being a feminine man bad because it’s considered evidence that you’re gay? Or is being gay bad because it’s seen as feminine? Or are both bad? And if the association between femininity and gayness is severed, what happens next?
The changes over the last two decades may provide some clues. After all, anti-gay attitudes in the United States have declined dramatically since the 1980s and ’90s. As recently as ten years ago, the public was evenly divided on whether homosexuality should be accepted or discouraged by society. Today, 59 percent of Americans say it should be accepted, according to a Gallup poll released recently. For the past three years, more Americans support same-sex marriage than oppose it. The most recent Pew Research Center survey, conducted this past March, found 49 percent in favor, compared to 44 percent opposed—and other polls have put the level of support even higher. About two-thirds of the public thinks that gay and lesbian couples can be as good parents as heterosexual couples and that they should have the same legal rights as their straight counterparts.
Among young people, especially, anti-gay views are decidedly the exception. About three-quarters of millennials believe homosexuality should be accepted and 70 percent support same-sex marriage. And, in large part, it is young men who have been driving this trend. Ever since we’ve been asking about it in public opinion polls, men have been more likely than women to espouse anti-gay views—a fact that buttressed the theory that masculinity is intimately connected with homophobia, says Tristan Bridges, assistant professor of sociology at The College at Brockport, SUNY. But just recently that gender gap has begun to narrow. Among millennials, it’s virtually non-existent: 69 percent of young women support same-sex marriage, compared to 65 percent of young men. Though homophobia is by no means eradicated—after all, Bridges points out, straight men especially still seem be far more comfortable with gay identity than actual gay sex—the largely supportive response to Collins and Rogers coming out would seem to reflect a real and rapid change in anti-gay attitudes, which should certainly be celebrated.
What’s far less clear is whether this shift is actually changing the way homophobia is used as a weapon for maintaining traditional masculinity. “Surely, it’s incontestable that the attitudes that people have about gay people have changed a lot—largely for the better.” Kimmel tells me. “But the attitudes that people have toward what constitutes masculinity, and how to enact being a ‘real man,’ haven’t changed very much at all.” Consequently, the use of homophobic slurs as a “mechanism of gender policing remains relatively intact”—even if those words have become less likely to be applied to actual gay people.
That’s what sociologist C.J. Pascoe found when she spent a year and a half at a California high school doing research for her 2007 book, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Homophobic slurs were tossed around constantly, but the students insisted they weren’t really about sexual orientation. “When I talked to these boys about what they were teasing about, they would go out of their way to say, ‘Oh no, we would never actually call a gay boy a fag. That’s just mean,'” she told me. Instead, boys labeled their peers “fags” for things like dancing, being too emotional, caring about clothing, being incompetent, or not have success with girls. While actually being gay wasn’t exactly accepted, Pascoe discovered that it wasn’t nearly as bad as being considered an unmasculine guy. As one student told her, “Well, being gay is just a lifestyle. You can still throw a football around and be gay.” Indeed, of the three out gay boys at the school, the two who were traditionally masculine weren’t really bullied by their peers much at all. But the third boy, who broke both the norms of sexuality and gender, faced such severe tormenting that he eventually dropped out of school.
Some scholars see cause for optimism, though. For example, Eric Anderson, an American professor of sociology at the University of Winchester, England, argues that declining homophobia is already starting to create “inclusive masculinities.” According to Anderson, homophobia only serves a weapon for enforcing gender norms in an environment of “homohysteria”—in which there is both widespread social disapproval of homosexuality and being gay is associated with femininity. As anti-gay attitudes decline and “the stigma of being called gay doesn’t sting” anymore, Anderson explained to me, the boundaries of acceptable masculinity expand. “It’s not to say that there are no hyper-macho men,” he says. “But it is to say that those who are more feminine are perfectly acceptable, because they’re not regulated by homophobia anymore.” And a similar transformation would be expected to happen if the link between femininity and gayness were broken. If being feminine is no longer considered incontrovertible “evidence” that you’re gay, who cares if you bend gender norms? Anderson’s research backs up his theory. He’s found that the male college athletes and fraternity members he studied in the U.K. and the U.S. are increasingly more accepting of their gay peers—as well as less aggressive and sexist, and more emotionally intimate and physically affectionate with their male friends.
But others aren’t convinced of such a large-scale transformation. Anderson argues that since sports have historically been highly homophobic spaces, other male groups are likely to be moreinclusive than the primarily white, straight, middle-upper class college athletes he has researched. But studies suggest that, paradoxically, those are the guys who may actually have the most freedom to bend the rules of masculinity. Pascoe describes it as “jock insurance.” In effect, men who have the most status have the masculine capital to be able to get away with flouting some gender norms. “Gender is at the heart of all this stuff,” Pascoe explains. “It can really make up for your deviance in other ways.” Bridges agrees: “I think it might be the case that gender flexibility is becoming more ok for young men today than it was in previous generations. But I would say that that is the case for a very select group of men.”
Research on LGBT students’ experiences in K-12 schools also suggests that anti-gay harassment may be driven as much by gender anxiety as by homophobia. For starters, the growing acceptance of homosexuality has been slow to translate into a change for LGBT youth, according to GLSEN’s national school climate survey, which has been conducted every two years since 1999. There has been some improvement: The frequency of anti-gay comments has slowly but steadily decreased over the last decade. The most recent report from 2011 found the percentage of students who reported hearing slurs like “faggot” or “dyke” was about 70 percent, a drop from over 80 percent in 2001. Even the pervasive use of the expression “that’s so gay” seems to have slightly declined in recent years (though “no homo” may have risen to take its place). Yet LGBT students’ reports of being harassed or assaulted held steady from 2001 to 2009, before finally dropping somewhat in 2011. And there has been no change at all in incidence of negative comments about gender expression.
Furthermore, gender non-conforming LGBT students are more likely to be bullied than their fellow gender-conforming LGBT peers. Of course, some of that may be because bending gender norms is conflated with being gay in a culture that still hasn’t let go of the idea that gender and sexuality are linked. But the high rates of harassment and violence faced by transgender people—who most radically reject the gender binary—suggest that gender policing is playing a role over and above the role of homophobia. A whopping 80 percent of transgender students reported that they felt unsafe at school because of their gender expression. And it doesn’t get much better for adults: Ninety percent of the trans and gender non-conforming people surveyed by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination on the job, or hid their identities to avoid it. A 2012 report on anti-LGBT violence from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that trans people were 28 percent more likely to be physically assaulted, and trans women specifically made up 40 percent of hate murder victims.
It’s not just boys who are punished for breaking gender norms, of course. Take Griner for example. In an op-ed in the New York Times, she recalled that in seventh grade “the teasing about my height, appearance and sexuality went on nonstop, every day.” Notably, it seemed to have more to do with her gender than her sexual orientation: “People called me a dude and said there was no way I could be a woman. Some even wanted me to prove it to them.”
Still, at this moment in history, it is easier to be a gender non-conforming girl. “Girls are allowed a lot more leeway to be outside of traditional femininity than boys are allowed to be outside of traditional masculinity,” says Barbara Risman, head of the department of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and senior scholar at the Council on Contemporary Families. So while girls also hold each other to rigid standards, and are vicious when someone doesn’t conform (one word: slut-shaming), they’re far less likely to be homophobic. The GLSEN report, for example, found that over half of students reported hearing remarks about students not acting “masculine enough,” but just over a third heard comments about students’ “femininity” as often. Up to a certain age, girls can usually get away with being tomboys, while “sissy” boys are discouraged from very early on—and not just by their peers. Studies have shown that parents—especially fathers—are more uncomfortable with their young sons playing with dolls or dresses than with their daughters doing stereotypically “boy” activities. And though stepping too far outside of acceptable gender norms is seen as a problem for everyone, to a degree, women may even be rewarded for distancing themselves from femininity at times.
This is not to say that declining homophobia doesn’t have the potential to lead to a serious reimagining of masculinity more broadly. And obviously this isn’t the kind of change that happens overnight. After all, the millennial generation that’s driving the momentum towards marriage equality is just beginning to create families of their own; I have no doubt that we will raise kids who are more accepting of different sexualities than any before them. And I’m also optimistic that millennials are well-poised to finally retire rigid, outdated versions of masculinity for good. After all, we’ve come of age in an era of unprecedented gender equality, and as traditional gender differences continue to converge, a masculine ideal that still defensively defines itself primarily against what it is not no longer makes any sense. The crisis of masculinity—predicted by a zillion trend pieces on the so-called “end of men”—offers a real moment of opportunity for my generation. As Thomas Page McBee wrote in the Atlantic last year, “Feminism allowed women to unlock the parts of themselves society kept from them, and now men are doing the same.”
But there are dangers to seeing these two trends as inevitable—and inevitably linked. After all, Bridges warns, “the most important and most dangerous forms of inequality are really capable of shifting.”Indeed, Pascoe points out that our ideas about what it is to “be a real man” are constantly changing—gender roles are always in flux—and “the important thing is not really what is included or excluded in the definition, but that that definition maintains gender inequality.” So while “sexuality might not be as big of a deal anymore,” what remains “a big deal is differentiating yourself from femininity.” In other words, we may well be moving toward a culture in which being gay is no longer on the list of things that are considered automatically “unmasculine.” However, unless we throw out the list altogether, the gender-enforcing function that homophobia currently serves—and the sexist culture it supports—will continue relatively unchanged. In such a world—to take another (extreme) example from sports—perhaps the Mike Rices of the future won’t call their players “faggots” and “fairies.” But if they still shout “cunt” and “pussy” as they physically abuse their athletes, that will be superficial progress indeed.
In fact, if the association between gayness and femininity is broken without more fundamentally expanding masculinity, it may even make things worse. Kimmel emphasizes that we don’t really know yet how this will all play out, but it could end up creating two tiers of gay men: “the really gay guys and the macho gay guys.” To some extent, that distinction already exists. Being “straight-acting” is valued—not only in the heteronormative culture at large but within gay communities, too. Gawker’s Rich Juzwiak explained last year, “As a gay, you understand that while you’ll always find peers who allow you to be exactly as queeny as you are, there is still a social hierarchy that puts a premium on masculinity.” Kimmel notes that, if that’s the direction we’re headed, gender non-conforming gay guys, who used to provide a critique of the dominant masculinity, “are gonna be seen as a real problem. If even gay men can be real men, what’s wrong with you? So in a funny way this could be another reassertion of the power of traditional ideas of masculinity.”
But, hopefully, instead it will be the first step in an important cultural change. “It’s a very good and powerful conceptual shift to decouple sexuality and gender,” Risman explains. “That is, to show there are very masculine gay men and effeminate gay men, but there are very masculine straight men and effeminate straight men, too.”
The brave decision by Collins and Rogers to come out should not be so narrowly taken as proof that even “real men” can be gay. Instead it should remind us that human beings^mdash;yes, even men—”come in all different types and shapes and forms.”
“You’re too ugly to be gay,” a man in a Huddersfield gay bar told Jakeb Arturio Bradea.
It was the latest in a series of comments from men that Jakeb says made him feel worthless. Last summer, following the comments, he tried to kill himself.
Manchester-based charity the LGBT Foundation has warned that body image issues are becoming more widespread in gay communities. It says gay and bisexual men are “much more likely” than heterosexual men to struggle with them.
A number of gay men have told the BBC they are going to extreme lengths to change their bodies – including using steroids and having plastic surgery – just to become “accepted” by others in the LGBT community.
Several said pressure from social media platforms and dating apps was exacerbating their body issues.
“Guys with stunning bodies get the comments and the attention,” says Jakeb. “I’ve not gone on dates because I’m scared of people seeing me in real life. I would honestly have plastic surgery if I could afford it.”
Instead of surgery, a few years ago Jakeb turned to anabolic steroids – class C drugs that can be misused to increase muscle mass.
I got to a certain weight from just working out and going to the gym, but I couldn’t get any bigger, and I got into my head that I needed to be bigger,” he says.
“My friend said he knew a steroid dealer, so I thought maybe I’ll just do a low dose to see what happens.”
But anabolic steroids can be addictive. Jakeb soon found himself unable to stop.
“I got to the size I wanted to be, but it didn’t feel good enough,” he says. “I kept wanting more. It was like there was a harsh voice telling me I’m skinny.”
Jakeb had his second near-death experience in November last year when – after several years of heavy steroid use – he suffered heart failure.
“I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t sleep, I was days away from dying,” he says. “The cardiologist said if I had done one more injection or gone to the gym a few more times I would have dropped dead.”
Months later, Jakeb has stopped taking steroids and has lost the extra muscle he gained, but he continues to have health problems for which he is receiving hospital support. “It just hasn’t been worth it at all,” he says.
And Jakeb is not alone in taking drastic measures to try to appeal to men.
James Brumpton – a software engineer from Lincoln – found himself “catapulted into this world of self-consciousness”, after he hooked up with a man at a local gay bar.
When James went back to the man’s house and took off his T-shirt, his date looked at him and made a disgusted noise. “Nice arms though,” the man added.
Eventually, the experience led to James deciding to have an abdominoplasty – otherwise known as a tummy tuck.
“I allowed another man to influence me to a point where I literally had part of me removed,” he says.
Prof Afshin Mosahebi, of Baaps, says gay men are currently having more cosmetic procedures done than straight men, although he notes that women have more procedures than men overall.
The surgeon believes the pressure of social media is pushing people to go under the knife.
“Some patients don’t need surgery, they need psychological help, and even the patients that do need surgery need to be appropriately informed of all the potential risks,” he says.
After James’s tummy tuck went wrong, he was left with permanent scarring, which made him even more conscious of his body.
“I’ve been shamed many times since then,” says James. “A guy I was dating once said that I needed to go and find jeans in the maternity section because I have wide hips.”
Dating apps have fuelled body image concerns, he says. “People having in their profiles ‘no fats’, or that they’re only into masculine and muscular guys, so they don’t want anyone that’s super skinny,” he says.
Images on social media and in leading gay magazines have also led James to feel he is an “invader in the space”.
“The idea in your head is that to be a gay man, is to look like a Calvin Klein model,” he says.
Photos of “sexy bodies” drive sales of gay magazines, according to Matthew Todd, a former editor of one such publication, Attitude.
“It was a tension the whole time and I continually tried to put people on the cover that weren’t like that: the first trans man, the first trans woman, the first lesbian,” says Matthew.
“I kept doing those kinds of things, but they didn’t sell well.”
When Matthew put a photo of Stephen Fry on the front of the magazine in 2010, “it was one of the worst selling editions ever”, he says.
“That’s not a reflection on Stephen Fry, because he’s incredibly popular,” he says. “I think it says more about what readers are coming to gay publications for.”
Matthew, the author of Straight Jacket: How to be gay and happy, says homophobia has fuelled gay men’s body issues.
“It’s really important to remember that there is unprecedented pressure on everybody to present themselves in a visual way,” he says.
“But I think you can’t take out of this discussion the fact that LGBT people grow up, shamed, not able to be themselves.
“And I think for lots of people, that’s a massive trauma that manifests as low self-esteem. If you don’t like yourself, that manifests as not being happy with the way you look.”
The result has been that gay men are under more pressure than straight men to have the perfect body, Matthew says.
“If you go on to some gay dating apps, you would think that the vast majority of gay men are supermodels,” he continues.
“If you’re a gay man, the act of finding another man attractive is also making a judgement of yourself. Many gay men confuse ‘Do I want to be with him?’ with ‘Do I want to be him?'”
Jeff Ingold, from LGBT charity Stonewall says it is “crucial” that we see more diverse representations of gay and bisexual men with different body types in the media.
“Not only would this help gay and bi men see themselves reflected in what they watch, it would also help break down harmful stereotypes that affect gay and bi men’s body image and self-esteem.”
But as it is, Jakeb says he still gets people online telling him they “wouldn’t leave the house if they looked like me”.
“I didn’t go on pride marches and have bricks thrown at me to have the community we’ve got now,” he says.
“We have equality, but we’re horrible to each other.”