What's eating Mike Tyson?

Observations on homophobia

Is Mike Tyson gay? Are his violent, macho outbursts and homophobic taunts desperate, perverse attempts to compensate for insecurities about his own manhood and sexuality?

Last Sunday, I confronted Tyson about these abusive displays as he arrived at his Memphis gym.

"I've got nothing against gay people," he responded. And, when pressed, he faced the cameras and declared: "I oppose all discrimination against gay people, OK."

He then shook my hand and, in a gesture of reconciliation, hugged my fellow protester Jim Maynard, from the gay rights lobby Equality Tennessee.

As Tyson prepared to challenge Lennox Lewis for the world heavyweight crown in Memphis, questions were being asked about his frequent homophobic behaviour. While shooting for his bit part in the film Black and White, Tyson nearly choked the actor Robert Downey Jr to death when he made a pass at him as part of the film's gay sub-plot. "Why do I get this white fag stuff?" he screamed.

In January, 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 homophobic threats: "I'll fuck you in the arse, you fucking faggot. I'll fuck you in the arse till you love me, you faggot."

Although this abuse was directed at a male reporter, these anti-gay insults took place immediately after the punch-up and fuelled the homophobic atmosphere that has since circulated around Lewis.

While there is no evidence that Tyson is gay, he certainly acts like a repressed, self-loathing, misogynistic gay man. Despite his macho pretensions, he can be effeminate in his speech and mannerisms. His lisp fits the gay stereotype, and he would not look out of place in a gay bar. If I saw him in the street, I would assume he was gay. His favourite insults are violent, graphic threats to sodomise men, revealing a perverse preoccupation with anal sex.

These male rape menaces are not that dissimilar in intent from his actual rape of women. His abusive relationships with women, all about conquest and domination, are a further indication of a misogynistic, self-hating homosexual. Always trying to prove his masculinity, 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, including Mitchell Rose and Mitch "Blood" Green, that Tyson is gay. More damningly, a recent Tyson outburst in a Guardian interview, in which he blamed his dysfunctional behaviour on the pressures of being in the media spotlight since he was 13, has been interpreted by some as an unwitting self-outing: "If I put a camera on your face for 20 years, I bet you might be homosexual."

Was he inadvertently implying that this pressure had made him gay? And, by implication, that internal angst about his sexuality had driven him to violent rages? Professor Henry E Adams of the University of Georgia has shown that 80 per cent of homophobic men have secret, suppressed homosexual desires.

These findings concur with theories that hostility to gay people is a form of subconscious distorted homosexuality, indicating a fear and loathing of one's inner, suppressed homoerotic attractions. Homophobia can also be a ploy to deflect rumours and suspicions.

Could these, perhaps, be explanations for Mike Tyson's aggressive behaviour?