Bet he didn't say some of this at the time...
Change of Heart?
Peter Tatchell wonders whether Mike Tyson's past history of obsessive homophobia reveals repressed homosexual desire
Until I confronted Mike Tyson in Memphis and persuaded him to recant his homophobia, Iron Mike was rightly regarded as an unreconstructed homophobe. Notorious for abusing his enemies as "faggots" and threatening to fuck them "up the ass", his homophobia wasn't casual; it was graphic, violent and obsessive.
While shooting scenes for a bit part in the film "Black and White", Tyson went beserk and nearly choked actor Robert Downey Jr to death. He was enraged when Downey made a pass at him as part of the film's gay sub-plot. "Why do I get this white fag stuff?", screamed Tyson.
It was this menacing, frightening homophobia that made me determined to challenge Tyson in the run up to his world heavyweight title fight against Lennox Lewis.
A week before the big fight in June, I ambushed Tyson outside his Memphis gym, demanding that he stop using homophobic words like "faggots" and make a positive statement supporting gay human rights.
Confronted by me waving a placard, "Mike Tyson! Stop your homophobia!", the former world boxing champion wilted, insisting that his use of words like "faggots" was not intended as an insult to the gay community: "I've got nothing against gay people", he told me. "I might use them (homophobic insults) but I don't mean them. I am not homophobic".
When I then challenged him to prove that he was not homophobic by making a statement endorsing gay equality, Tyson happily obliged: "I oppose all discrimination against gay people". To cap it off he hugged me and shook my hand.
The fact that he did this spontaneously and unscripted convinces me that he had a genuine change of heart. It was probably the first time anyone had dared challenge his homophobia. Perhaps it took my challenge to make him realise that his words and behaviour were offensive to gay people.
Nothing can erase all the bad things that Tyson has said and done in the past, but he is one of only a handful of world class sports stars who have publicly backed the campaign for queer human rights. The old brute deserves some credit.
Tyson's new gay-friendly attitude got me thinking. What motivated his past history of violent macho outbursts and homophobic taunts? Were these desperate, perverse attempts to compensate for insecurities about his manhood and sexuality?
Although there is no evidence that Tyson is gay, in the past he has sometimes acted like a repressed, self-loathing gay man. How else can you explain his exaggerated machismo and his obsessive, irrational anti-gay streak? It doesn't make sense. No well-adjusted heterosexual male gets so hot under the collar about gay people. What, I wonder, is the real reason for Tyson's long record of homophobic abuse?
Despite his macho pretensions, Tyson can be quite effeminate in his speech and mannerisms, as I witnessed first hand. His lisp is the full-on gay stereotype. There is something about his ultra-masculine swagger that would not look out of place in a gay bar. When he shook my hand and hugged me, it was a warm, tender embrace - not the vice-like grip that I expected.
Was my confrontation with him a cathartic moment that prompted the former world champion to ditch his butch persona, revealing a kinder, gentler, more gay-friendly man?
Up to now, Tyson has been too straight to be true. Compared to normal straight guys, he has previously protested his heterosexuality much too loudly. His frequent resort to homophobic abuse has revealed an obsession with gay sexuality. Many of his insults involve threats to violently sodomise other men. The graphic details of these threats reveal a perverse preoccupation with gay sex in general and anal sex in particular.
These male rape menaces are not a million miles in intent from his actual rape of women. Moreover, his abusive relationships with women and his homophobic insults both bear the hallmarks of a misogynistic, self-hating homosexual.
Tyson seems unable to have a tender, loving relationship with a woman. His affairs with the female sex are all about conquest and domination, not about love, respect and affection. Always trying to prove his masculinity and heterosexuality, he fits the classic pattern of a gay man who cannot accept his sexual orientation and who uses women sexually as a way of convincing himself - and others - that he is straight.
There have been allegations by other boxers that Tyson is gay. On the day of his infamous fracas with Lennox Lewis in New York in January, ex-boxer Mitchell Rose accused Tyson of being a "homo". Earlier, another boxer, Mitch 'Blood' Green, made similar allegations.
More hints were revealed in a Tyson outburst in May, which some people have interpreted as an unintended self-outing. Responding to criticisms of his violent, dysfunctional behaviour, Tyson blamed it on the constant pressure of being in the media spotlight since the age of 13: "If I put a camera on your face for 20 years I bet you might be homosexual".
Was he inadvertently suggesting that media pressure had made him gay? If not, why would he mention homosexuality in the context of explaining his reckless, abusive behaviour? And was Tyson also implying that internal angst about his sexuality had driven him to violent rages?
Tyson's obsession with homosexuality is hard to fathom. If he hated it so much why was he constantly taking about it? His frequent crotch grabbing while uttering homophobic insults reveal both a loathing and fascination with gay sex.
In January this year, after he bit Lennox Lewis on the leg at their press conference in New York, Tyson clutched his genitals obscenely and poured out a stream of violent homophobic threats: "I'll fuck you in the ass. You fucking faggot. I'll fuck you in the ass till you love me, you faggot".
Although this abuse was directed at a male reporter, 'Scoop" Malinowski, these anti-gay insults took place immediately after the punch up with Lewis and fuelled the homophobic atmosphere that has circulated around Lewis for the last year.
While there is no proof concerning Tyson's sexuality, the idea that he is a closeted gay man in deep self-denial is not implausible. Ostentatious homophobia and repressed homosexuality usually go together.
Scientific confirmation that most homophobic men are repressed homosexuals comes from Prof Henry E Adams of the University of Georgia, USA. His research found that 80 per cent of homophobic men have secret, suppressed gay desires.
These findings concur with theories that hostility to gay people is a form of sub-conscious distorted homosexuality, and that anti-gay attitudes indicate fear and loathing of one's inner, suppressed homoerotic attractions.
What homophobes are doing is projecting onto others fear and disgust concerning their own homosexuality. Men who cannot accept their same-sex desires vent their self-loathing through attacks on other gay men. Feeling guilty about their homosexuality they become stridently anti-gay as a way of compensating emotionally for their guilt and shame.
Homophobia can also be a ploy to deflect rumours and suspicions. The twisted logic goes: if I am anti-gay I can't be gay, and if I am anti-gay no one will doubt my heterosexuality. Is this the explanation for Mike Tyson's past homophobia? And if he now rejects anti-gay attitudes, will he be more relaxed about his manhood and sexuality in the future?
One thing is certain: since I confronted Tyson outside the gym, he has suddenly started showing sweetness and kindness to everyone - even to Lennox Lewis. Is this just coincidence? Or has challenging his homophobia helped make Mike Tyson an all-round better human being?
AXM - August 2002