On Chaps and Their Cocks

7.20.2010

By James Kirchick

In his memoir, Christopher Hitchens comes clean on gay love affairs past.

In a four-decade-long career that has taken him around the world and from the far left of the political spectrum to slightly right of its center (he was a witness for the independent counsel investigation of former president Bill Clinton, a fervent and unapologetic supporter of the Iraq war, and a hawkish opponent of what he terms 'Islamofascism'), homosexuality is an area about which Hitchens has written little. But he proves remarkably open, both in Hitch-22 and in person, freely discussing his once-confused feelings about his best friend, the novelist Martin Amis. 'I find now that I can more or less acquit myself on any charge of having desired Martin carnally,' he writes in his memoir, before adding the typically self-deprecating rejoinder, '(My looks by then had in any case declined to the point where only women would go to bed with me.)' This candor stems in part from a belief that everyone harbors same-sex attraction, at least up to a certain age. In his memoir, he wistfully recounts a love affair with a fellow classmate named 'Guy,' whose affections represented a highlight in the 'ongoing monastic sex drama' that is English boarding school. The two exchanged poems along with 'white-hot and snatched kisses.' When another student 'who had had his own bulging eye on my Guy for some time' caught the two in a private embrace, the school forbade the young lovers to speak to each other. Hitchens was pleasantly surprised by the response of his parents; his father, a former naval officer, told him that, 'worse things happen in big ships.'

It comes as no surprise, given his hostility toward religion (his 2007 bestseller God Is Not Great is more responsible for catapulting him to international fame than any other work) that Hitchens views attempts to 'convert' homosexuals into heterosexuals as deceptive and dangerous. But he does allow for a more fluid understanding of sexuality, in which individuals, capable of loving and being attracted to members of both sexes, decide at some point to stress one desire over the other. He says today that he is 'generally glad not to be gay.' But he has made room in his own life to account for a sort of hybrid, heterosexual/homosexual bond that is nonsexual but equally passionate. 'Can you have a heterosexual relationship with a man?' he asks of his friendship with Amis. 'I would say, 'Yes you can,' as long as it's about fornicating with women.'

Hitchens has counted gays among his close friends and companions throughout his life. His memoir is dedicated to James Fenton, his college roommate and a professor of poetry at Oxford. And early in his journalistic career, Hitchens befriended the roguish Member of Parliament Tom Driberg, a man notorious for 'cottaging,' English slang for having sex in public restrooms. 'What he wanted above all was to give free blowjobs to the working classes,' Hitchens explains to me. 'And he really put his back into the work -- one of the greatest contributors there's ever been.' He is also friends with the British actor Stephen Fry and says that he considered the gay couple that lived on the same floor of his Washington apartment building for many years the ideal caretakers for his daughter were he or his wife ever to become incapacitated.

As for his views about contemporary gay rights issues, Hitchens is supportive, but considers other battles more worthy of his time and attention. 'I used to know people in the '70s,' he says, 'who essentially regretted the passing of the law' decriminalizing homosexuality. 'It somehow deglamorized'took the danger, the thrill out of it.' While he obviously does not support the criminalization of homosexuality, he says that he's 'put in mind of this by people who, deep down, think the marriage thing is completely overrated [and] say it misses the point of being gay,' hearkening back to a more radical period of gay rights activism when those at the forefront saw marriage as part of the conservative order they were trying to undo. Yet when he looks at the forces arrayed against the movement, it's obvious to him which side he's on. 'As with a lot of things, I hate the people who hate it.'

Hitch-22 (Twelve) is available in stores now.

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