Magazine article Out

Speedophobia

Magazine article Out

Speedophobia

Article excerpt

Mark Simpson undresses the tortured relationship between American men and their swimsuits.

If the stern, killjoy rubric of the warning sign (pictured above), erected in the 1960s by the good people of Cape May, N.J., sounds like a way to rain on a gay beach party, that's because it was.

Cape May, a resort town a few hours south of New York City by car, had become a popular gay haunt by the late 1950s, nicknamed "Cape Gay" by the cognoscenti. According to a 1969 article in Philadelphia magazine, "their public displays of affection, particularly among men wearing women's bathing suits on the main beach...turned off the townsfolk." The city council, eager to protect its flock from glimpsing the terrifying outline of adult male genitalia, was moved to pass a law forbidding bikini bathing suits on males over age 12-a "phalliban," if you will.

Now, of course, such a sign is inconceivable. Or rather-unnecessary. After all, everyone knows that male bikinis, or to give them their trade nameturned-generic moniker, "Speedos," are unofficially banned from all main beaches in the United States, whatever your age.

You may think them practical and sexy and iconic. You may consider them the single most perfect and pithy item of clothing ever designed for the male body. You may consider them the only thing to wear on the beach. You may even consider yourself slightly overdressed in them. But if you do, it's probably because you're gay. Or foreign. Speedos, otherwise known as "banana hammocks," "marble bags," "noodle benders," and "budgie smugglers," are apparently as un-American as Borat's body thong.

Speedos on a nongay beach are the surest way to earn yourself angry stares, abuse, and plenty of room for your beach towel. As a result, Speedos have in the United States become a badge of gay pride and exclusion-as oven homophobia declines, rampantly overt Speedophobia is bringing U.S. gays and Brazilians together, huddling together at the far end of the beach in their Lycra.

Male celebs like David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Daniel Craig may now be nicely filling out their Speedos on their beach holidays-but none of these fellows are American. Speedos and even more revealing male swimsuits are popular in South America, Asia, much of Europe, and especially, of course, in the land of the pert-butted lifesaver: Australia, the place where the "Aussie cossie" and much of the beach life-style we know today was born.

The Speedo is more than just "gay" beachwear: It's a symbol of sexual freedom and a rediscovery of the body after centuries of clammy Christian morality.

Bathing and swimming are undoubtedly pagan passions. The ancients invented the seaside resort and spent a great deal of gold on, and time in, their blessed public baths, where the men bathed and swam naked. Not because they were indifferent to nakedness, but because they esteemed virility. Every night was wet jockstrap night (without the jockstrap) at the Roman baths, and especially well-endowed bathers were likely to be greeted with a round of applause; during the reign of notorious size queen Emperor Elagabalus, those who hung low at the baths were promoted to high office.

Alas, neither swimming nor bathing nor size-queenery survived the decline of the Roman Empire. Medieval Christianity, with its ghastly suspicion of the body, rendered water-the sensual cleanser of limbs -suspect. As late as the 16th century, bathing was thought to be wicked, unhealthy, and, er, filthy. (Even Catholic baptism used only "holy" water, water that had been blessed, symbolizing the cleansing blood of Christ: Sin was the deep-down dirt that Christianity was angry with.)

The English were the first to rediscover the lost art of swimming, largely as a result of their exploration of Polynesia in the 18th century, where swimming was common amongst the blissfully naked natives. By the 19th century, swimming in rivers, lakes, and the sea was almost as popular in England as it had been in Rome-frequently naked, male and female, sometimes at the same time. …

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