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Updated: 2000.10.11

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We're on the eve of the Olympics, and the mainstream media have come to their quadrennial realization that athletes are sexy.

First, the obscure stuff. Blue magazine in Australia, an oddball mixture of nude photography, whitespace, and forgettable writing, has published a special issue featuring near-naked photos of Australian athletes. The same was produced for Atlanta. I've seen what these people can do, and it's quite stunning. The problem at present is that this issue has not reached Canada, and there is no locatable Web presence.

This of course follows on the heels of the successful Matildas Calendar, a fundraiser for Australian wymmynz soccer. Now, many were the press articles decrying the impropriety of these fine, upstanding ladies' appearing naked, but few were the condemnations of the money crunch that necessitated the calendar in the first place. (Another justification, of course, was promotion.)

I own several sexy-Aussie-athlete calendars, of both boys and girls. They've got their heads on straight in Australia, really. They recognize that athletes are the epitome of the developed human form. So do the athletes. Everyone's happy.

(Indeed, the biggest sports mag in Oz, Inside Sport, ran a sheila on every cover. Just what does that have to do with sport? It doesn't – except to the male breeder demographic. The Aussies simply aren't hypocrites. They know that male sports fans also have sex drives, and are happy to beaver away at the overlap.)

Meanwhile, even crusty Esquire has gotten with the program. Its August 2000 ish features a very long pictorial spread of U.S. Olympic athletes in skimpy attire. Female athletes, natch.

What does this have to do with homosexualism?

A whole lot, actually. Sports media depict a lot of sexy athletes. (I have thousands of examples.) They're male athletes, and the audience is also male. There's a structural homoeroticism at work. In the '90s, though, instead of engaging in a passé Advocate style self-outing ("We know we've been shooting faggy pictures of shirtless football players in locker rooms, and we're not ashamed!"), photo editors seem to have come to the realization that female athletes, despite or because of their fitness and musculature, are also sexy.

So we now live in an ironic world where sports mags aimed at guys, and guy mags aimed at guys, give us the best of both worlds: Sexy photos of jocko athlete studs and equally sexy photos of jocko athlete babes.

Who's complaining?

Well, actually, Johnette Howard. The former SI peon complains about her former employer's cover story of Anna Kournikova, an article whose entire raison d'être is to emphasize her sexiness.

After all, an athlete's body is trained, chiseled, transformed for a function, a purpose. And it's not to be eye candy. For men and women alike, sports redefine what we're capable of, the heights we can hit. One reason sports is an especially effective vehicle for women's self-empowerment is that sports allow women to determine – by ourselves – how our bodies are used or regarded. That's a rare and precious thing in a culture that ritually undresses women and young girls the way SI did Kournikova, and misappropriates our bodies to decorate everything from calendars to truck mud flaps, and tells us we risk being called ugly or jealous, unloved or gay when we speak out or refuse to fall in line.

Howard cleverly buttresses insupportable exaggerations with motherhood-issue liberal feminism. Of course we don't want independent women called ugly, jealous, unloved or (shock!) gay. Who could argue with that?

But if sports truly emancipates women to "determine... how [their] bodies are used or regarded," then the choices of some adult women to pose for sexy magazine coverage must be supported unreservedly and without squirming or moralizing. What liberal feminists seem to desire is to be left alone to develop the athletic bodies they want, but for those bodies never to elicit remark without advance written permission. Get a grip.

What planet is Howard living on? If sporty spices like being sporty and spicy, let them. Encourage them. It's a big world. Your way of living as a woman isn't theirs.

(For more along these lines, read "Doing the NASSSty.")

Esquire did a good deed in its June 2000 issue, assembling Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Pete Sampras, and Jim Courier in the same spot for a couple of group photos. An outtake was floating around (on the Web?) that showed the four lads kidding around a bit, but the final still, by Martin Schoeller, is all business, and it's very unusual as sports portraits go.

  • First of all, everyone but Courier is covered in sweat.
  • Chang and Agassi look like human beings who happen to be holding tennis racquets – not much of a stretch for Chang, but an enormous leap up the evolutionary ladder for hateful popinjay Agassi.
  • Courier, a redhead who could charitably be described as strange-looking, comes off as a half-demonic cult member in his 3/4 profile. What's with the pursed lips? And why isn't he sweating? Is Jim Courier actually human?
  • Sampras, still a very sexy man, looks pained, worried, crestfallen, tired, dehydrated, and on the verge of tears. A superhuman player, Sampras's expression brings him back to the human level through a network of (involuntary?) facial expressions alone.

Schoeller sweated more than just the foreheads. The foreboding blue-grey dusk skies and slightly-too-bright overhead-left lighting evoke the moments before a thunderstorm, when you rely on artificial light in the middle of the day and feel unclean for it.

("If it's not online," you ask, and it isn't, "why whet our appetites?")

Meanwhile, SI for Women got away with its very own Swimsuit Issue, featuring sexy athlete grrrlz frolicking, and in many cases swiping the swim trunks from, sexy athlete boys. It's all good Christian fun, really, though the general unattractiveness of the men (exceptions: Jason Seahorn, Justin Armour) is notable compared to the women, who are all quite well-put-together.

The photographertrix, Sheryl Nields, and the magazine's art directrix and fashion editrix are all women. The photo editor, however, is male. I don't quite have a theory to explain why the only athlete dudes they could find were so homely. Perhaps it's simple lack of taste.

In any event, a Web-only portfolio is available.

(I note that these photographs reinforce my theory of the well-rounded physique of straight guys who play sports and lift weights. Seahorn's musculature is particularly well-balanced, though other subjects in the feature are better-built on paper.)

And did you know Martina plays hockey? For the Mother Puckers, no less.


On May 20, as part of the Inside Out homosexualist film festival, I enjoyed a presentation-cum-screening-cum-sideshow by Tom Waugh, a film professor at Concordia University in Montreal with an extensive portfolio of writing on queer cinema. Tom's presentation, "Beyond Beefcake," examined physique photographs and movies from the earliest days of cinema to Stonewall.

Over 90-odd minutes, Tom battled technical temper tantrums from VCRs that just weren't interested in showing old-school physique films, maintained the attention of audiencemembers, and above all actually made sense, something we don't often expect from academics.

Why physique photos? Well, in the days before pornography, physique pictures acted as a kind of genteel erotica for a closeted era. Gays have always loved to look at well-developed men, and bodybuilders – who, technically, are a kind of athlete – were immediately attractive.

But didn't people catch on? Wasn't it obvious just who was interested in physique photos and why? Well, not really, Waugh says, because a set of alibis quickly developed, including health and naturism. However, "the most important alibi of these decades was sport," he says – the only place where man are allowed to touch each other. "Among these dream athletes, the [most cherished] is the strongman."

Significantly, what attracted gays to strongmen was "the unveiling, the flaunting, not action." Forty years into the future, Buddy Cole echoed these sentiments: "Lately I've been more and more interested in athletics – well, athletes." Gays tend to be klutzes growing up. We like what we actually are not ourselves.

"On the one hand, we pretend to admire the strength of the strongman, but what we really wanted was his love."

The strongman as an object of general fascination (and here Waugh underplays the interest of nonhomosexualists) dates back to the very beginnings of cinema. Waugh ran a clip of a segment of film shot by Edison featuring Eugene Sandow, at the time a world-famous strongman, who later presaged the Weider empire and branched out with his own magazines. In the snippet, Sandow performs muscle poses of the sort we're all familiar with now from bodybuilder porn on TV. The startling fact about the film is that it was believed to have been shot in 1894.

We've been loving the alien for a while, it seems.

Waugh presented dozens of slides of old physique postcards, magazine covers, and photo spreads, all of them remarkably chaste by current standards and all immediately recognizable as being more than what they pretend. Exactly one of the models had anything resembling chest hair, again presaging the late-20th-century preference for "plucked and basted" as a bodybuilding look.

There's something to be said for the belief, held by many physique photographers (of whom several remain alive today), that boys photographed in any kind of clothing, even the infamous skimpy "posing pouch," are sexier than frontal nudes. Generally, models looked away from the camera and they never, ever sported an erection, and those two differences from today's gay porn are key to understanding why the discreet semi-clothed models did such a number on the closeted gay psyche. He doesn't know we're looking at him! Voyeurism loses its fun if the subject knows you're watching.

Waugh presented a range of ancient film clips. In 1914, Bartolomeo Pagano, playing a prisoner, courageously and shirtlessly breaks free of his bonds, causing nearby guards and little old men to faint. Tarzan, the Ape-man (1932) featured the famous Johnny Weissmuller, though the clip Waugh ran for us was notable mostly for his loincloth rather than strongman exploits (even given Tarzan's habit of wrestling marauding lions).

Another gem from the '30s, The Sports Parade, was nothing less than astounding in matter-of-factly presenting "locker-room action" that's often quite contentious nowadays. (One thinks of the complaints of chickenhawk voyeurism in the shower scenes in Apt Pupil.) The football quarterback is of course also a champion wrestler, and he gets his buddy back for snapping a towel at him in the shower by manhandling him once they're both fully clothed. The shower scenes were impressively naturalistic, with visible arses and guys simply standing there under running water delivering pregnant dialogue. Try persuading a Hollywood star to re-enact those scenes today.

As Waugh summed up this clip, "After the horseplay in the shower and the roughhousing in the locker room, there's a return to the official alibi": Our hero the wrestling quarterback is summoned to the outside world by... a girl.

In the days before Stonewall, before the Mattachine Society and other embryonic gay groups, collecting physique photos, postcards, and magazines was a form of community-building – "the most important gay action" before Stonewall, Waugh contends. This kind of "consumption" amounted to a form of early gay community. But isn't the idea of "bachelors" across North America mail-ordering physique mags, delivered in brown paper wrappers, for private enjoyment a bit lonely and sad? It can't be much of a community if you know other people are out there but do not know those other people.

The National Film Board actually produced a short documentary, with especial attention paid to the Weiders of Montreal, carrying the prototypical title I Was a Ninety-Pound Weakling. A lot of attention is paid to the Mr. Canada<slash>Mr. Universe of the era, Billy Hill, who, in his too-gaudy, too-tight short-sleeved shirts and prissy hairdo, would fit right in at a circuit party. Except he'd be surrounded by a thousand guys exactly like him.

A few photos, and a spectacularly bad short film by Dick Fontaine, focused on bondage, the threat of getting speared, slavery, and other healthful pursuits. It was easier to push eros through violence and SM, Waugh observes. Well, yeah – ain't you seen Gladiator?

I was amazed by the technical sophistication of a 1952 film that was set, Annette Funicello–style, on a beach. One boy dreams of a strongman, and poof, there he appears. You wanna do some... posing? Sure! With a regal sweep of the hand, the boy's swim trunks turn into a sexy posing pouch. En route to the sea for a quick dip, our heroes stop every ten feet or so to smile at the camera and pose. These scenes, without a doubt, are the true genesis of voguing.

The film, Waugh explains, proves what we already knew: Posing is cruising. The alibi of the athletic muscleman is a dream or fantasy of play and romance.

And how, sister.


The other month I spotted the Mondo Sport ish of the French fashion magazine Mode Max (Spring-Summer 2000, «hors série Nº 3»). I was again reminded that written national French taxes my comprehension skills even though I can understand every word of spoken Canadian French.

Certainly the Wallpaper æsthetic is rampant in this issue, with uniformly-lit (indeed, lit-like-a-sitcom) Modernist layouts of glossy Scandinavian models in T-shirts and tank tops. Everyone looks like a puppet in Thunderbirds, with the smoothest skin the polymer industry can extrude. Also: trench coats («trenchs»). And swimsuits, with jailbait boys frolicking lovingly inside cramped, tiled shower cubicles. Full article on the pressing question of visible vs. discreet basket in one's swimsuit.

We then segue to loving fashion photography of actual French athletes (le ski, le judo, le karaté, le supercross, le handball, la perche, le rugby, le boxe). Some of the white guys could only be French. They have that look. Rather suspicious getups these guys have on – soaked-to-the-skin mesh tank tops, maillots with trenchs, boxing shorts with blue silk scarf and blazer. The gay influence, while no doubt officially nonexistent, is manifest throughout. Just like Wallpaper, actually.

Serious articles (i.e., entirely uninteresting, unreadable articles) on great moments in l'histoire du sport, like Nadia Comaneci, Mike Tyson, a few irrelevant European events. Ayrton Senna, one of those magical names that will outlive the memory of the life of the person. Fahion spread with a surprisingly sweaty yet chalk-dusted male gymnast (apparently a real one). Guys with absolutely excellent arses in nylon or too-tight sweaters jumping off buildings or doing handstands on their roofs.

Real footballers in ringflash B&W layouts. With real football gear. A very effective, naturalistic, yet artistic and de la mode approach. Memorable, this ish.

We pass inevitably to the SI Swimsuit Issue, which has been getting queerer every year since Okrent was in charge during the editorial bake-off. What could I possibly mean, you ask? In the olden days, "models" wore swimsuits –the ideal actionwear for guys, since they get all the action and don't have to lift more than five fingers. Now, in the nouvelle formulation Swimsuit Issue, athletes (usually male) are depicted with their spousal equivalents. You know those muscle magazines, which put girls on their covers to distract from the fact that the real object of interest is the guy she's clinging balefully to ("Ooh, help me, Dr. Zaius!")? Well, now we've got the reverse. We've got shirtless football players with their sexpot wives in erotic layouts (less exotic than the beach shots but no less erotic). So when Joe Sixpack cracks a bone, he's got six-pack abs and hairy forearms in his visual field. God bless America.

Highlights (for children?): Deciding who's sexiest among the athlete dudes pictured (Bill Romanowski, I think, whose head hides one of wife Julie's silver-bikinied tits: never seen such cleavage between deltoid and pectoral in my life). The requisite ad featuring a young wrestler boy. Shot of Laird Hamilton, surfeur, and his lovely wife, Gaby Reece, volleyballeuse, followed immediately by a feature article on the two.

Now, Laird Hamilton (a somewhat-less-magical name, but winsome nonetheless) is one of the more spectacularly beautiful athletes to emerge in the latter part of the previous century, rivaling Miss Louganis. And, as a surfeur, we get to see most of him most of the time. The male writer is compelled to address reality.

He kicked around, from Hollywood to Milan, modeling and acting and surfing. At 6'3" and 220 pounds, way bigger than life, tan, buff and blond, with Rushmore-jawed good looks, he was just as likely to be found on the cover of Paris Match or L'Uomo Vogue as he was on the gatefold in Surf, Surfer, or Surfing. [...] In 1996, People named him one of its 50 most beautiful people.

This passage abuts a photo of the strapping Laird running manfully through sand carrying flippers. Of course, that shot is nothing. Laird in a red sleeveless short-pants wetsuit, seen from behind, leaves much more to the imagination. Sometimes we prefer our imagination. (Laird's father is also very well-preserved, though not depicted here.)

So the Swimsuit Issue has an interest now in counterbalancing its T and/or A with some kind of heavily distanced, psychologically-transfered hero worship. I mean, that is why straight guys like sports. Because they get to look at guys all the time. We're the ones who are upfront about the collateral benefits.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, archrival ESPN, whose taste in photography is no less sexy but much more moderne than stodgy SI and its thrall to Iooss, gives us really quite an excellent idea: Hockey d00dz from around the world kickin' back and bein' natural in the dressing room, then hangin' tough in the bestest suits of clothes a magazine promotional contra deal can buy. We love Mattias Norstrom in his goatee and suspenders, and Marko Tuomainen could in fact be the only attractive Finnish man, albeit only in profile.

And here is the surprise, the evidence that a woman in full command of her æsthetic and sexual impulses masterminded the spread: The guys look so much better in suits. Tuomainen, however, ends up looking like a pimp. Hockey players, whatever their background, end up looking working-class. Even the Nords sometimes.

But I have one question: Where was the most magnificent specimen of manhood on earth, Daniel Alfredsson? (Of whom there are no proper photographs online. Believe me, I have scoured every nook and cranny. Look here.)

Sex-U-up shots found elsewhere in the issue emulate the SI distraction style, with, e.g., Pavel Bure ("Your buckets, gentlemen." "Buckets?" [drooling]) fully-clothed surrounded by babes in bikinis. Way more cutting-edge, fin-de-siècle babes, who probably play a mean game of chess and prefer stick-shift to automatic. Pavel resembles Schwarzenegger and Tim Robbins. Great bondage shot of Alonzo Mourning, almost canceling out the armpit shot on the cover (of the "03/20/00" ish).

Next, le monde onliné. Corey Johnson, the homosexualist quarterback, is raising eyebrows all over the place. Mostly because his status as the first out-o'-the-closet high-school quarterback has led to practically no problems whatsoever, least of all among his teammates, who have suffered only the most inconsequential angst. I can't believe it either.

In the early days of homosexualist sport coverage, we couldn't imagine any kind of out athuhlete who wasn't past his prime and competing in the Gay Games. The kids have really caught up with us. Yes, it's Societal Attitudes At Work, but really, it's TV and the net. Kids these days simply do not know a world of popular culture where there weren't gay people. Straight boys have looked at underwear ads since they were ten. People kinda put two and two together. (And lotsa straight boys are taking roids and pumping iron at the gym. And looking only at the girls on the covers of muscle magazines.)

I guess, then, it is not shocking that a Corey could exist, and thrive.

Riddle: When is the New York Times like a porn site? When it gives you two ways to search for old articles – one backdoor and free-of-charge, the other at a fee – but makes it impossible to bookmark the articles you dig up through the free method.

Try the search terms gay football in the search field at Site Search. You'll dig up two articles of note:

  1. "An Icon Recast: Support for Gay Athlete," by the inevitable Bob Lipsyte, a mind orders of magnitude sharper than any of us
  2. "Breaking the Silence: Gays and Lesbians in Professional Sports," a lengthy interview transcript that actually has a few new things to say, despite trotting out the Usual Suspects (Burton Nelson, Kopay). Dave Kopay is still wracked with sentimentality and guilt. Indeed, while he is reasonably straight-acting in appearance, his gay self is most clearly present in his emotional life. This makes him something of an ideal man, despite the bitterness, loneliness, and drug/alcohol use.

Over at Salon, "Gorgeous Masculinity: Muscle magazines make guys, straight and gay, feel good about being men" discusses every red-blooded man's interest in muscle mags.

I can't overlook the spawn of Wallpaper, namely Line. ("Line: Cross It.") There's no online presence. (Typical. It took Wallpaper two years.)

I have already begun to call the magazine Liné. It's allegedly dedicated to the fusion of fashion and sport. Here's the omnipresent Tyler Brûlé:

This was a gut feeling, looking at the marketplace and saying there is a sport trend in the marketplace that isn't going to go away. Both fashion companies and sport companies have built a whole apparel business around leisure hours, so there is a core of money there. [...S]omeone wanted new shoes and Ariel said she wanted a new tennis skirt and I said, "It's funny that there's no magazine out there that we could turn to to get that information." For the people who are urban and who do play sport, be it golf, tennis, sailing or skiing or snowboarding, nobody packages it into a lifestyle context, and at Wallpaper, we know that's our strength. [...] So many sport books have been ghettoized. I'm not going to go to the newsstand and buy a ski magazine, but it would be great if I could subscribe to something that alerted me to a number of new things in that area.

I guess we have finally achieved the long-sought dream of a gay sports magazine. It's just that what we ended up getting is a gay-sensibility magazine. Feature article on what the former German Democratic Republic is doing with its training facilities photographs shivery triathletes in (again) cramped, tiled shower cubicles. Dutch soldiers, we are told (and shown, in loving shots featuring camo pants à go-go), are unlike Amerikanskis. "Where your average American marine is built like a dumptruck, all neck, arms and pecs, the Dutch are leaner and lankier. This has something to do with genetics (the Dutch are the tallest race in the world) and a lot to do with training." Again, a jailbait photo of a young recruit in camo pants and nothing above the waist save a tattoo. Quite enjoyable feature on lawn bowls in New Zealand, with fetching photographs.

Sitting here thinking about it, Line shows just how passé the five-years-ago æsthetic of the Gay Sports mailing list has become. It's like the kids these days. They reject labels. Straight people are kind of getting used to the idea of having gays around. (According to Brian Pronger, that awareness explains why guys walk around dressing rooms wearing towels now. They know they're being watched.) Gays have leapfrogged everything. They assume everyone around them is as gay and fabulous as they are. Or bisexual and fabulous. Or just sexual and fabulous. Because they don't like labels.

(Except Peak Performance, and Salomon, and Descente, and, to hear Line tell it, Arc'teryx.)

One may read haughty, self-important A-list arriviste heterosexualist former men's-fashion pundit Russell Smith's bitchy, seen-it-all, yet not-entirely-baseless condemnation of Line here.

And finally, a couple of months ago the execrable Canadian television series Power Play, about the exploits of the fictional Hamilton Steelheads NHL franchise, Addressed the Gay Issue. One of the secretaries, a faghag ("My friends listen to me instead of looking at me, and when they are looking at me they're looking at my eyes instead of, you know..."), spotted a player in fagbar. She inadvertently leaked it to a reporter. A mini-pogrom took place among the team, but not the New Age coach, the GM (sexy Michael Riley, a very smart man, and the role is overwritten to suit him), and the owner (Benton Fraser's corporeal dad, Gordon Pinsent). Eventually most everyone on the team does a Jews-in-Paris/To Wong Foo and declares "I'm gay" ("No, I'm gay." "No, I'm gay!"), though there is a hint as to who the real one is.

OK, so we have a homophobic chick dissing us over at the Top Ten Pretty Boys of the NHL site ("If any of you ladies have a different opinion, give me an E-mail. Men's opinions don't count. Hopefully, that problem hasn't hit the NHL yet"). But what I still don't get is how hockey players –and I speak specifically of them, since they're usually working-class Canadians, lower-middle-class Americans, or middle-class Europeans –would ever get upset about having a fag on the team. I figure it would be a Corey Johnson déjà vu all over again: We already know you, and you're not my type and vice-versa, so we don't give a [expletive].

Is what I'm saying.

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