Talking (To Myself) About ‘Retrosexual’

Posted: January 22, 2012 in Identity, Masculinities, metrosexuality, Metrosexy, retrosexual, Uncategorized
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In a recent interview for an Italian magazine, Mark Simpson mentioned some old friends of his – ‘hummersexuals’. He said:

‘Hummersexuals are guys who over-emphasise their masculinity with ‘manly’ accessories in a way that makes you wonder what they’re covering up. Retrosexuals are merely pre-metrosexual.’

This is consistent with what he wrote about Hummersexuals, back in 2006:

‘Despite his best efforts to convince you, the hummersexual is not retrosexual. Since when did “regular guys” need several tons of military hardware, or “new macho” lifestyle magazines such as Best Life, or books such as the bestselling Alphabet of Manliness and Men Don’t Apologise, to be “regular”? The hummersexual is clearly, hilariously, faux-retrosexual. He’s an off-the-peg, drag-king idea of “real” masculinity: stuffed crotch and joke beard included at no extra charge.’

And in a recent piece about some ‘macho’ fashion bloggers he reiterated his old idea that ‘retrosexual’ means ‘pre-metrosexual’: ‘This kind of guff isn’t ‘post-metrosexual’ at all. It’s so pre-metrosexual it’s positively pre-Stonewall.’

Now I’d not paid much attention to these weird, ‘faux-retrosexual’ hummersexuals before. Partly because Mr Simpson has not written anything about them for years, and partly because, more importantly, neither has anyone else.

The thing about ‘neologisms’ is they are only really useful if they capture a concept that a large number of people can relate to and utilise in everyday life. Metrosexual and ‘retrosexual’ are both part of regular conversations. Simpson has come up with terms that are meaningful in the contemporary world.

But ‘hummersexual’ to me, is as pointless as a man driving a big petrol-guzzling truck just to prove he is a ‘real man’! To illustrate my point I’ll tell you that the picture at the top is the cover of a retrosexual manual from 2008. There are no ‘hummersexual manuals’ I can find. And last year, Mr Simpson did a reading at a club night with a ‘retrosexual’ (not ‘hummersexual’) theme.

At the ‘retrosexual’ club, Simpson read from the introduction to Metrosexy, where he  discusses the ongoing march of metrosexuality:

‘Not everyone is happy with this state of affairs. Some gays, understandably, don’t appreciate being upstaged. Or being confused. And of course quite a few traditionalist heteros also hate metrosexuality along with the sexual uncertainty that it represents, and wish it would just go away, or have a terrible accident on the sunbed. Or they want to pretend that it never happened, that it was all just a bad, over-plucked dream. Such nostalgic determination not to see what should be as plain as the bronzer on your face is, in its way, quite endearing. But when media types start cooing as they have done lately about ‘retrosexuals’ that are just metrosexuals with shaped chest hair, I can’t help but roll my eyes like the girlfriends of the lads flashing me their shaved balls.

You see, when I first used the word ‘retrosexual’ back in 2003, I just meant men who were not metrosexual. So-called ‘regular guys’. Remember those? But at the dawn of the second decade of the Twenty First Century, masculinity has been rendered so self-conscious in our mediated, mirrored world that even ‘regular guys’ are apparently just a fashion fad – this season’s accessory. We’re all like my post-op MTF friend Michelle (formerly known as the male stripper ‘Stud-U-Like’) complaining: ‘Where can you find a REAL man these days?? I’m so SICK of all these metrosexual PHONIES!’ Though probably with less self-irony.

What else could explain the squealing eagerness with which the media seized upon the confected character of Mad Men’s Don Draper as an example of the return of the ‘retrosexual’? An impossibly pretty and impeccably well-turned out Army deserter with identity issues – and a hidden, shameful secret – who works as an advertising creative and is the unwavering object of the camera’s voyeuristic gaze. We’re so metrosexualised now that this is what ‘old time masculinity’ looks like to us. Put another way, metrosexuality is masculinity mediated, aestheticised and (self) fetishised. Even if it looks fetching in a trilby.

This makes sense to me. I see  ‘metrosexual’ and ‘retrosexual’, not as two ‘types’ of man, but rather as the culture of masculinity we live in. And in that culture there are tensions, e.g. between men’s ‘feminine’ display and narcissism (metrosexual) and their need to still be ‘men’ (retrosexual).

There are very very few men, however metro, who do not have some denial in them. Gay,straight, whatever, men cling on to ‘masculinity’ like rats to a sinking ship.

And I think Metrodaddy is in a bit of denial about this. I don’t know why. Maybe he wants men all to be out and proud metrosexuals. Maybe he (rightly) senses in men’s denial of their metrosexuality some good old-fashioned homophobia.  Maybe he is just a man, who also has some denial of his own ‘femininity’. But surely it’s better to acknowledge it.

It’s easy for me. I never was and never will be a ‘man’. It is also easy for me as I am not the originator of this theory. I didn’t have to start from scratch, 20 years ago, with no words to describe this world we live in that now seems obvious.

I can see why Simpson both initially said that ‘retrosexual’ just meant ‘pre-metrosexual’ and that a ‘hummersexual’ was an exaggerated, in denial ‘faux-retrosexual’. What I don’t understand is why Simpson, in 2012, returned to his old ‘retro’ stance from way back when, and resurrected ‘hummersexuals’, making out that ‘retrosexual’ is just an old word to describe men before metrosexuality had really taken hold of our culture.

That seems to take ‘retrosexual denial’ a bit too far.

  1. Jonathan says:

    “There are very very few men, however metro, who do not have some denial in them. Gay, straight, whatever, men cling on to ‘masculinity’ like rats to a sinking ship.”

    Well, there’s telling us.

  2. Jonathan says:

    I hadn’t got as far as agreeing or disagreeing. I merely saw a unsubstantiated statement about “men” and my hackles rose straightaway 😉

    • well I think the whole of Mark Simpson’s oeuvre substantiates it. So if you accept these references:

      Simpson, S (1994) Male Impersonators (Cassell)

      Simpson, S (1996) It’s A Queer World (Vintage)

      Simpson, S (2002) Sex Terror (HP Press)

      Simpson, S (2011) Metrosexy (Amazon Kindle)

  3. Jonathan says:

    In that case I shall submit a list of feminist works substantiating other sweeping judgments about “men” 😛

    Okay, I’m not going to — but when you use phrases like “There are very very few men”, basically telling men we’re all like that, I’m not sure there’s really much difference.

    Then again, perhaps I’m just being oversensitive to language here. Probably it wasn’t worth me making three comments about.

    • well if you know loads of men who are not in any way in ‘denial’ about the ‘feminine’ aspects of their selves I’d love to hear about them!

      • Jonathan says:

        If you’re after a general response, I’m not exactly the most representative person to ask. Because, as part of the trans*/genderqueer/etc community, I know a very great many men like that, yes 🙂

        • surely being a trans man is in part a HUGE denial of one’s femininity?

          also most gay men I know are fucked up about femininity/masculinity

          • Jonathan says:

            “surely being a trans man is in part a HUGE denial of one’s femininity?”

            How do you figure that?

            (Also, so we know what we’re talking about, please clarify what you mean by “trans man” – because that term usually means something specific.)

            As for gay men, sure, quite a lot are, shall we say, “femmephobic”, but it’s not an ubiquitous attitude in my own experience.

  4. Mainly I meant FtM trans men and those who live ‘as men’ in whatever way.

    re Gays this ‘denial’ I mean in their own selves not just prejudice against ‘femme’ men.

    • Jonathan says:

      “Mainly I meant FtM trans men and those who live ‘as men’ in whatever way”

      Okay, right. We’re on the same page then. In that case…

      …regarding transmen being in denial: that’s another rather sweeping statement. Which parts of their (former or current) selves each trans* person remembers/integrates/suppresses is a very individual process. Even supposing someone is motivated to suppress conflicting gender elements, sex and gender don’t necessarily correlate in a binary way, whether cis or trans. It’s perfectly possible to transition physically in a binary direction and retain a gendered self which is culturally defined as opposite. Hence the existence of femme transmen and butch transwomen, for instance.

      As for gay men being in denial, I don’t feel qualified to comment further on that.

      • ok well let’s say that all’femme’ men ftm’s are NOT in denial about their femininity (which I dispute). Even then that would constitute ‘very very few’ men in terms of the total population.

  5. e.g. there is a new trans men’s magazine out called ‘dude’ – that’s a macho word!

  6. Vendetta says:

    Look, I’m slender, my hair’s kind of long, my girlfriend makes fun of my ‘feminine curves’ now and then cause I’m real thin at the waist. I’m not the most masculine looking of guys.

    But reading generalizations of how guys are all turning metrosexual or retro sexual these days, or even just seeing the words themselves 30 times in a page of writing…

    It just makes me think, “What a load of shit.” Or about pounding my head on a wall. Or pounding the ground with a club. I don’t know. Pounding objects with other objects, caveman bullshit.

    Maybe there’s your cutoff for the real “retrosexuals” are. For the guys who just don’t like to read, see, or care about this crap, who are just repulsed by the very terminology you’re using.

    “Metrosexuals vs. Retrosexuals, Binary vs Spectral Gender? I don’t care, all I know is I just don’t want any part of that. Keep that shit away from me,” I the ‘retrosexual’ and probably the rest of that crowd think.

    And a much bigger crowd it is than you think. I have smart and dumb friends, normal and odd ones, but pretty much all the guys I know wouldn’t touch a Gender Study with a ten foot pole.

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