Saint George, patron saint of parks at night

(Warnings. There will be talk of men’s bodies and sex between men, mostly in plain language, so this is not for kids or the sexually modest. And there will be comparisons of mansex to religious ritual, which some might find sacrilegious and therefore offensive.)

That would be the singer George Michael, as canonized by Australian artist Scott Marsh. The cover of the March-April 2017 Gay & Lesbian Review:


One allusion is to Michael’s enthusiasm for sex in public places — in mens rooms, in the hookup areas of parks, and so on — which eventually triggered his coming out as gay and led to his fashioning defiant celebrations of his sexuality and of these practices. Another allusion is to sexual acts, especially mansex, as analogues of religious rituals: a man sucking cock as worshiping the essence of maleness on his knees, a man getting fucked as offering his body to another man as sacrifice.

To come: the Scott Marsh mural; about George Michael’s music, with an appreciation of several of his songs; musings on sex in public, its organization as a social practice, and entrapment by police; and the rituals of mansex.

The mural. Advance notice from GLR, in e-mail:

On the cover of the next Issue (March-April) is an extraordinary mural of George Michael titled Saint George, Patron Saint of Parks at Night, painted by Australian artist Scott Marsh. He says he painted it on a wall in Sydney after Michael’s death “to honour our friend, brother, father figure.” Check out the mural here.

Another shot of the mural, from a Peter Devlin 1/14/17  story in the Daily Mail:


‘Saint’ George Michael immortalised in mural by Sydney street artist behind infamous Kanye kissing Kanye painting.
Sydney street artist Scott Marsh painted a mural of late singer George Michael.
The colourful mural is located in Erskineville, in Sydney’s inner west.
Marsh’s latest work depicts George Michael as a ‘patron saint of the gays’.

Michael and his music. From “George Michael Made It Big” by Colin Carman, in the coming GLR issue (with periodic commentary from me):

The year 1998 proved that Michael was pursuing new kinds of public exposure. He was arrested in Will Rogers Park in Los Angeles for cruising a bathroom and exposing himself to an undercover policeman on so-called “potty patrol.” Michael, who was essentially entrapped by the Beverly Hills PD, would later tell MTV, “It was a stupid thing to do, but I’ve never been able to turn down a free meal.” He then transformed the embarrassment into an up-tempo song called “Outside” that satirized the incident.

Comments on entrapment later. Meanwhile, you can watch a remix of  GM’s “Outside” video (1998) here.

In it, he celebrated sex al fresco and gave new meaning to his cover of Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” which had sailed to the number one spot on the UK and American charts seven years before.

A cheap but entertaining play on sexual go down on ‘perform oral sex on’. And you can watch GM and Elton John doing this 1991 song together here.

More importantly, the incident forced the artist to confront what he had known since he was 26 but had kept secret.

At some point I don’t see how anyone could have missed the homoerotic intensity of GM’s music. I recall being stunned by “Faith” and “I Want Your Sex” in 1987, a good 11 years before GM’s t-room adventure. My god, they were hot. Videos to watch here and here, respectively.

… George Michael’s career grew even more interesting in its emotional intensity. A song like “Amazing” is proof that he never abandoned his faith in love’s power to redeem — “I never thought my savior would come” — but it’s found on his fifth and final solo album, 2004’s Patience, when his best days were already behind him. A vocalist with astounding flexibility, Michael could hold his ground when sharing the microphone with the likes of Elton John, who revered Michael’s songwriting skills, and Aretha Franklin (on 1987’s “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)”), which provided the Queen of Soul with her first number one song in the UK. Michael acted as a bridge between the thoroughly closeted acts like Liberace and Freddy Mercury, whose flamboyance he appropriated and honored (he stole the show at an AIDS fundraiser and tribute to Mercury after the Queen frontman’s death in 1991) and fully out acts like Adam Lambert and Rufus Wainwright (whose indictment of American exceptionalism, “Going to a Town,” George Michael covered on 2014’s Symphonica).

GM did joy and enthusiasm beautifully. And he “got” other artists and their styles wonderfully.

Rivaled only by Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out,” “Freedom! 90” has become a coming-out anthem in the GLBT community.

And that 1990 anthem you can watch on video here.

Sex in public. Well, in what are legally public spaces. Nevertheless, it’s a set of social practices, regulated informally. The aim of this regulation is to provide men with locales — mens rooms, parks, back alleys, whatever — for cruising (finding sexual partners) and engaging in mansex, while concealing all of these transactions from those who would use these places for more conventional purposes and would be offended by the activities of the t-room men. The goal is to protect both the conventional world and also the subterranean world of mansex.

The regulation involves a system of signalling availability for sex and for specific sexual acts, a system for keeping the sexual negotiations subterranean, a system of maintaining anonymity (if that’s what you want), and norms for interaction (notably, maintaining consensuality and avoiding imposition by force, but also little conversational routines for expressing thanks).

Yes, what happens in the subterranean world is illegal in most jurisdictions, but then there are lots of illegal activities that are tolerated because they are mostly harmless but have benefits for those who engage in them; these activities are typically informally regulated; and some of them are quite widespread. Jaywalking, for example. (I believe that subterranean mansex is less common in the age of Grindr and other forms of hooking up, but there are still reasons for some men to engage in it — for the anonymity it can provide, for instance, and the place away from home that it can make available for the mansex — and some men simply have a taste for it, as GM apparently did, and as does the protagonist of the German film Taxi zum Klo.)

However, even modest types of illegal activities will attract the attention of law enforcement, which is not above using the activities to harass and demonize those who engage in this activity. Laws against jaywalking are rarely enforced, but when they are, they tend to be used against specific groups, as a form of social control. Some years ago, when Columbus OH went on an enforcement campaign against jaywalking, it was selectively enforced in only three places: on the streets surrounding Ohio State University, outside gay bars, and in the black areas of the city.)

Selective enforcement, but also, not infrequently, entrapment (as in GM’s case). In the case of t-room sex, entrapment (and outright fabrication) by the police is common. One case, from the NYT on 10/8/14, “Lawyers Challenge Lewdness Arrests at Port Authority Bus Terminal” by Joseph Goldstein:

For some of the more than 100,000 travelers who use the Port Authority Bus Terminal each day, a second-floor men’s room is their first or last stop in New York City. The facilities are what you might expect: toilets, urinals, hand dryers.

But above the row of sinks, a posted sign offers an atypical note of caution: “Restrooms are patrolled by plain clothes officers.”

It is not an idle warning.

Port Authority police officers have arrested more than 60 people this year in the bus terminal on public lewdness charges, a sevenfold increase over the same period last year. Most of those arrested were accused of masturbating in the second-floor bathroom. According to court records, they were observed by plainclothes officers, who were often standing next to them at an adjacent urinal.

At least a dozen of those arrested are represented by the Legal Aid Society, whose lawyers say their clients — some of whom say they were merely urinating — were victims of aggressive and intrusive police tactics.

The effort by the Port Authority police is part of a crackdown on quality-of-life crimes at the bus terminal.

The bathroom is hardly a hotbed of sexual activity. Capt. John Fitzpatrick, the Port Authority police commander who oversees the bus terminal, acknowledged that complaints about sexual behavior in the men’s room “are few and far between.”

The last point is important. It’s not that there was a problem with mansex in the mens room; the idea was to humiliate men the cops thought might be gay — and, probably, to boost their arrest stats, but mostly it was a campaign against faggots.

Enforcement doesn’t have to be like that. In some places and at some times, there have been t-rooms (especially in out-of-the-way spots) that enforcement agencies simply ignored, so long as there was no harassment by the t-room men (or against them).  Or, in at least one case known to me, a (24-hour) t-room that  an enforcement agency patrolled regularly, but only to ensure that there was no harassment on either side (a policy that might be thought of as intelligent harm reduction).

Mansex as worship. Explicit in Scott Marsh’s mural. The image of a man sucking cock on his knees is routinely seen as a symbol of religious worship, specifically taking communion: take, eat, this is my body. GM’s sex in public in fact seems to have been oral (“I’ve never been able to turn down a free meal”).

But fucking is also construable as worship, and in more than one way. In particular, the man getting fucked can be seen as symbolically offering his body as a sacrifice to his fucker. Especially when this offer is made in public, and especially when the offer is made to many men, freely and without reservation, the fuckhole can be seen as a figure of awe, analogous to Christ or to a willing martyr: all this I have done for you.

Then there are the texts of mansex, its liturgy. Like, say, the liturgy of the Eucharist, these texts don’t vary a lot; they are verbal rituals that gain much of their power from repetition in the context of the practices they are associated with. The strength of sex talk, dirty talk, springs from its predictability (“Suck my dick, faggot”, “Fuck me harder, please, please”, and so on): creative variation on the formulas is likely to derail the intense focus of the moment (“Whoa, I never heard that before!”). This is why inventive dialogue in written porn tends to be comic rather than arousing.

The sex talk in gay porn flicks is heavily formulaic, and that’s a good thing. We like to hear the good old songs.

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