Gert Jonkers bends down to pick up his shopping bags. His crack peeks out below his T-shirt hemline; I take the partial moon as an auspicious sign. In their less-than-100-hour visit from Holland, Gert and Jop Van Bennekom, the editors of the cult magazine BUTT, are dedicating two hours to helping me understand the components of an alluring butt. At least, that’s the idea. Jop straps on his new shoes, purchased in Soho, so he can break them in while we check out the asses around town.
Jop and Gert run BUTT, a small, pink publication with a homoerotic sensibility. They fill it with nude black-and-white photos, Q&A interviews, and anecdotes from readers around the world. The work of famous photographers like Terry Richardson and Wolfgang Tillmans often graces its pages; one image, Tillmans’s “Bottoms,” is taken from the perspective of an ant looking upward from between the straddled feet of a naked man. Extensive interviews with guys like Rufus Wainwright, Marc Jacobs, Gus Van Sant, and Michael Stipe make this publication more than just a porn-type mag that you’d toss after a fast flip-through. BUTT calls itself “the international faggot magazine for interesting homosexuals and the men who love them.” It’s a good read—for gay men, but for straight men and women too, it provides unusual insight into male desires and anxieties.
We stride up the Bowery. To Gert, an ass should be two perfectly round circles, really firm. “Like cheese wheels,” he says, “you put two together and that’s a description of a good ass.” Jop describes a desirable ass as something that takes on a life of its own. “But I don’t want to call it a bubble butt,” he says. “It’s not exactly a bubble butt.”
They’re dressed similarly. Both have on designer jeans—Jop in Acne and Gert in Dior. On top, they wear waist-length jackets and have light hair, kept at a half-inch length. Suddenly, our tour de ass takes a turn. Jop divulges a heartbreaking detail: He’s more of a neck than ass man. Gert says it’s broad chests that turn him on. Jop and Gert take nice asses for granted. They grew up in a country where people bicycle everywhere, toning the gluteus from a very young age. “The Dutch butt is very good,” says Gert. “We come from an assy country.”
We go east at Astor Place, heading for St. Marks Bookstore to check out the placement of BUTT Book. Taschen recently published this 560-page collection of highlights from the magazine’s first five years. It includes stories like the one by an Israeli man who uses his boyfriend’s asshole as a cookie mold, and the play-by-play account of a man breaking his “gay holiday man-hymen” on the balcony of some Spanish hotel.
Gert and Jop protest a bit as I try to focus them on behinds, but I can’t let their interest in other body parts get in the way of our quest: understanding the good butt, New York style. For Jop, there’s one kind of ass that thrills him every time. “There is the black ass,” he says. “Which is fantastic. They can be 50 and have a belly, but the ass is still there.” Gert begins discussing the architecture of Cooper Square when I ask him to comment on a butt clad in baggy jeans by a kabob stand. “When there is a straight line from shoulder to knees,” he says, “it’s not good. A flat ass.” Instead of rating this butt, Jop offers fashion advice. He explains that jeans don’t do butts justice these days, especially mass-produced Walmart-quality apparel.
Gert and Jop aim to design the perfect jeans for men aged 30 and up—The Fantastic Man Jeans. Rule No. 1: No more than a palm’s width should be permitted between the two back pockets—any more and an ass of any size appears too wide. “Check yours now,” Jop warns. And like the content of their book, the jeans focus more on frontals than backs. “Can’t have a flat front,” says Jop. “It’s nice if you have a bit of a bulge.”
“Some pants have no cock,” agrees Gert, “and the person turns out to have a cock and you think, that’s a crying shame for the brand.”
“I absolutely hate no-dick pants,” says Jop.
“Yeah, no dignity to the dick,” replies Gert.
Inside the bookstore they lose their focus again. Their eyes scan the high shelves searching for their book, not the area in the middle where butts roam. Jop picks up a magazine. He stops, disgusted. “The Dik Fagazine,” he says snidely. Gert and Jop believe Dik Fagazine is biting their idea, along with 10 other gay magazines out now. “We introduced the term ‘fagazine’ first,” says Jop.
Leaving the bookstore, Gert and Jop want to stop and have a coffee. On the way to the Mud Café on East 9th Street, I ask about women’s asses. They look appalled. “Don’t ask us that!” they say. But finally they come around. They believe women’s asses have more of a range than men’s. “Women’s asses can be huge,” says Jop. Gert suggests that women’s ass range is akin to the range in men’s penises. “They can be this big,” he says with his hands two inches apart. “Or this big,” he says, widening his hands to the extent I’d be frightened to see what could fit in between.
The woman behind the counter at the café making shots of espresso has black stretch pants on. “I think leggings for men should come back,” says Gert. Jop isn’t sold.
Although we can’t appraise bare butts on the street, Gert has an opinion about them nonetheless. The butt crack needs curvature; one line is a no-no—on BUTT‘s pink pages, at least. “We print in black-and-white,” he says, “so it’s all about shades of gray.”
BUTT isn’t really about butts anyway. Jop says part of the readers’ attraction to BUTT is that no cover boy is held to any cultural ideals of beauty—hairy fat men are regularly featured, as are men with eight-packs. AIDS, Gert says, desexualized homosexuality; he sees BUTT as putting the sex back in with an additional helping of fun. The secret to a nice ass, then: There is none. “Like good weather or good sex,” says Gert, “a nice ass just happens on you.”
I ask what the next five years of BUTT might bring. Their chief concern is keeping the magazine exciting. The current issue, BUTT No. 18, has photos of men shagging—the first time Gert and Jop have gone there. And women, could a woman’s ass ever grace one of BUTT‘s pages? Jop tightens his brow, concerned. He replies, “You have to set your boundaries somewhere.”