'Straight lads are such bloody tarts now,' my mate Farmer Dave observed, gazing at a young skimpily-but-nicely-turned-out man, past my shoulder.
'And it's all your fault.'
A warm summer evening last year and we were enjoying a pint of mild outside a pub in the rural market town in the North East of England -- let's call it "Trumpton" -- where I now live. In the big metropolis, far, far away, it was Gay Pride. But we didn't feel we were missing out too much.'
That's because although we were hundreds of country miles away from all that oiled-up action, thanks to the triumph of metrosexual pride in the Noughties, we had plenty to look at. The cream of the local lads, in their fake tans, fashionably complicated jeans, sculpted hair, Soho beards, figure-hugging shirts and intricate, muscle-flattering designer tatts, were showing one another -- and me and Dave -- their hard-earned biceps, pecs and abs.'
A decade and a half after I first wrote about metrosexuals in the Independent newspaper in 1994, and eight years after I returned to the subject in 2002 for the American online magazine Salon.com -- this time actually persuading the rest of the world to notice them too -- rather a lot of straight boys are better at the "gay" thing than most gays these days. They're not terrified of something that might look a bit "girly/" All they care about, along with half of today's Premier League, is looking hot.
Nor is it just a metropolitan thing anymore. Even in Trumpton these days far too many young straight men have better bodies, better skin, better clothes and just a better sense of male sexiness. At the end of the first decade of the Twenty First Century, metrosexuality, the male desire to be desired -- by everyone, including and sometimes especially by other men -- once regarded as pathological, perverted and definitely something to keep to yourself, is so commonplace as to be almost "normal." Perhaps even -- eek! -- ordinary.' In fact, in their quest to be noticed in a webcamed, Facebooked world where so many young men seem to be aiming to be the next Men's Health cover model, they have gone beyond metrosexual to become positively metrotarty. Hence all that sporno advertising of late involving Beckham and other sporting bucks, semi-naked on the side of buses shoving their Armani-clad giant packets down our throats.
Metrosexuality and whatever comes after it, when all is said and done, isn't really about men becoming "gay" or "girly." Nor is it about visiting spas and wearing flip flops or carrying manbags. Rather, metrosexuality is about men becoming everything. To themselves. In much the same way that women have been for some time. It's about men finally realizing that if women can appropriate hitherto "male" behavior and practices for their own enjoyment and advancement, then why can't men do the same thing? And if women won't be women for men any more, why on Earth should men be men for women?' So, in the Noughties, James Bond in Casino Royale became his own Bond Girl, while straight lads became their own High Street Honeys: in 2010 Men's Health with its male tits and abs covers became the UK's best-selling men's magazine, "outstripping" so-called lad mags like FHM. Meanwhile, over in the U.S., the biggest TV hit is Jersey Shore, a reality TV show in which Mikey "The Situation" Sorrentino extols his self-sufficient, self-regarding metro mantra of Gym. Tan. Laundry. When he isn't flashing his pumped, shaved, highly tarty bod. Jersey Shore -- and the just-launched U.K. version, Geordie Shore -- in its "vulgar" vitality demonstrates that metrosexuality is not a strictly middle class phenomenon, and is instead possibly even more embraced by working class males who, after all, are used to only having their bodies to sell. And who now work on those bodies in the gym instead of sweating over someone else's property at the factory.
Yes, I agree, "metrosexual" is a terrible, ridiculous, annoying word. But then, so is "homosexual." Or "heterosexual." Though none of them are quite as awful as the creepy suits-you-sir! euphemism "male grooming." Too many men's magazines still seem to be terrified of putting the word "male" next to "beauty" in case someone thinks (or realizes) they're gay. Or, even more pathetically, afraid their readers will think the magazine thinks they're gay. Based on my own observations from the front-line of male aesthetics in rural England, I suspect most of their younger readers are already way ahead of these metropolitan sissies, and regard that kind of anxiety as, well,' gay.
Paradoxically "metrosexual" will probably only finally fall out of use altogether when masculinity and (compulsory) heterosexuality are no longer seen -- or pretended to be seen -- by most as exact synonyms. The rise of male behaviors and tastes that has been characterized as metrosexual has been made possible in large part by the decline in the stigma attached to male homosexuality. While this stigma made life rather difficult for homosexual men, it also had an instructive, not to say repressive, effect on all men. True, some looking around today at the evidence of untrammeled male self-regard, such as in the petulant, impossibly pretty, not to mention unforgivably, unapologetically talented, famous and wealthy form of a Cristiano Ronaldo, might say that male metrosexuality was an urge that really did need to be repressed.' But love him or loathe him, or call him by any other name, the metrosexual and the bronzed new masculine world of self-regard he represents, is here to stay. And look pretty. And, since he really, really wants us to, we should probably admire him.'
Even if he is such a tart.
Metrosexy is out now on Kindle -- available for your instant pleasure at MarkSimpson.com.