There are two words that by now are sure to send anyone catatonic at the merest mention of them. One is French for stylish or elegant, the other is Greek for dyke. You know, the kd & Cindy Vanity Fair cover, Roseanne, Go Fish, Brookside, EastEnders . . .

Still awake? Please try, because in all the acres of newsprint devoted to the 'discovery' of stylish dykery, there is something that has not been said: why is there no male equivalent? Why is there no such thing as faggot chic? Now that Harpers & Queen has run a piece on straight women who go to bed with their girlfriends, when is Esquire going to run a feature on the joys of shagging your rugby pals after an evening down the boozer?

So far, it has been that over-

hyped 'lesbian kiss' episode of Roseanne which has come closest to addressing this question. In the final scene Roseanne is surprised to discover that, rather than getting mad about her being kissed by another woman, her husband Dan is, in fact, turned on. But she knows what will cool him down: she tells him all about the men that were kissing and holding hands and dancing together. Dan's frisky grin freezes on his face to be replaced by a look of horror, and he decides it is time to go to sleep.

Of course, the mainstream 'cross-over' success of female, as opposed to male, homosexuality is not just to do with the 'Swedish Nurses in Lesbo Lust' fantasies of straight men. Many otherwise heterosexual women clearly enjoy the portrayal of lesbian desire - even in its lipsticked and blow-dried form - because it symbolises women's new-found independence from men and the way they have won the freedom to express active desire.

But it would be naive to leave the sensibilities of straight men out of the picture - men who probably gag much more over images of male-on-male affection than purr over the female-on-

female version. Why should this be? Why should the depiction of homosexuality involving members of their own sex be such a problem for men when it is apparently such an attractive proposition for women?

Ironically, the reason is that male homoeroticism is the 'dark side' of the lesbian chic coin. Lesbian chic announces active female desire - women are on top; explicit male homoeroticism announces passive male desire - men are underneath.

This message has never been a welcome one for men, but now they have even more reason to be uncomfortable. What makes men so unready for faggot chic is precisely the fact that the world we live in is already drenched in images of male homoeroticism.

Advertising, film and magazines have for more than a decade offered the male body in poses which are taken straight from gay erotica. But this depiction always depends upon the assertion that it is not homoerotic. While the most important official selling point of lesbian chic is its lesbianism, the most important official selling point of male homoeroticism is that it is heterosexual.

After all the complaints in the Seventies and Eighties about 'lesbian invisibility', it turns out that male homo desire is much more invisible - even when it is everywhere it must pretend to be its opposite.

This is because if the queerness of mainstream male homoeroticism is acknowledged, if the passivity of the men offered for our visual pleasure becomes explicit, then they lose their virility - the very thing which is apparently being admired. Men who admit their passivity are 'useless faggots' - the antithesis of what an admirable man should be.

This is why in those Levi's ads the sexy stud shedding his clothes to sell jeans (to men) is always heterosexualised, either by a picture of his girlfriend on the dressing table ('Bath'), or by being joined magically in the last frame on the diving board by a female companion ('Swimmer'). This is why the models in GQ and FHM seem to attend so many wedding fashion shoots and why these magazines catering to male narcissism feature so many articles about football.

This is why Marky Mark, whose greatest claim to fame was dropping his pants and grabbing his dick to sell men's underwear, made such a big deal out of digging 'bitches' and being a 'street- tough rapper' (and also why he managed to develop a reputation for homophobia). This is why Top Gun, a story about Tom Cruise's airborne love affair with Val Kilmer, has Kelly McGillis hanging around playing gooseberry.

This is why all those films featuring nearly naked bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Jean Claude Van Damme who are so popular with teenage boys are so violent. God forbid that we might think that there was anything passive about these men so devoted to their bodies and so eager to offer them to our gaze.

Faggot chic is unlikely to become the next media fad because it would mean men accepting the enormity of the sexual revolution that has occurred: that men are no longer always 'tops' and, in fact, are increasingly fond of 'bottoming'. Even more saliently, faggot chic is unlikely to sell underwear or aftershave. It could not be passed off as something 'stylish' since that would mean talking about fundamental changes in the notion of what it means to be a man - and that just is not very sexy.

Men seem to have adjusted, albeit grudgingly, to the idea of active female desire, but they are a long way off admitting the reality of how vulnerable their bums have become lately. Like Dan, they would rather hear about lesbian chic.

Mark Simpson's book, 'Male Impersonators: men performing masculinity', is published by Cassell, pounds 12.99.

(Photograph omitted)