Part one: in which everyone asks me that question
Dig, if you will, the picture, as my never-to-be-forgotten hero Prince once said.
It’s a Thursday morning, the very small hours, and we’re sat on a sticky carpet in the long shadows of another indie night. Emily and I are not engaged in a kiss, not yet, but I certainly have ambitions in that area. We’ve been exchanging looks all night and when a mutual acquaintance got sick of us playing eye tag, she dragged both of us together, sat us at a table, and told us to get on with it. Emily had a cute pixie haircut and huge anime eyes, and for the three hours we’ve been inseparable I can’t stop looking into them. I’m not generally an all guns blazing type of guy – I have a history of repeatedly missing the signs – so I play it cool. I want to make sure that I’m not missing the signs.
Clearly however I’m giving out the right signs because a moment later Emily leans in close, very close, and her eyelashes brush my cheek as her lips cosy up to my ear. I’m hoping that she doesn’t start off by kissing my ear, because that’s it, that’s my thing, my libido’s on switch. We’ve already established that she lives with her parents whereas I have my own place, five minutes away in a taxi. I’m already flicking my mental Rolodex for a number when she asks the question. I can still feel the little intake of breath on my ear as she opens her mouth to speak to me.
“You’ve not tried to kiss me yet,” she purrs. “Are you gay?”
I go home alone.
Part two: in which I repeatedly miss the signs
Although for a short time Emily sent my libido so far south that Antarctic tourists could take a day trip to see it, the truth is that she was not the first to ask me that question. I’d be surprised, although I don’t remember any specifics, if she was even the first person that month to ask me. I have been asked that question since my teens, since before I even really knew what ‘gay’ meant. Growing up in a Northern pit village, knowing words with more syllables than your own name was likely to earn the insult “queer!” or “puff!” and wearing a pink item of clothing was a guarantee of a beating. I never understood why being clever equated with being gay, and why both were insults. ‘Gay’ and ‘gaylord’ were just generic playground slurs, no different from calling someone ‘twat’, ‘bastard’, or as was popular for a mercifully brief period, ‘spawny-eyed parrot-faced wazzock’.
By the time the Tories were trying to legislate homosexuality out of existence with Clause 28 (they tried class-based genocide with the working class and sexuality-based genocide with queer and trans people – what the smeg do they have against ordinary people just trying to live their lives?), many of my heroes were gay, or at the very least – let’s go with ‘flamboyant’, coincidentally the title of a song by the band that probably topped my list of heroes at that time, Pet Shop Boys. These were the salad days of my political life and I strongly identified with the Red Wedge movement and anyone who appeared to be an outsider. From The Communards to Julian Clary I worshipped them all, for standing up for what they believed in, for being smart and sassy, and for generally being different. I could definitely identify with that.
These were the salad days of my sexual life too, and contrary to what the opening bars of this ballad might suggest, I spent them in the company of women. I was lucky enough to lose my virginity to a woman older and far more experienced than me and while we were only together for a few months – I swear to God, our date nights had to end at 9:20pm because on school nights I had a curfew of 9:30pm – I learned a lot from her (also, running a mile and a half, uphill, in less than 10 minutes was good for my cross country running). From that day to this I have sung the praises of older women (and been good at cross country running).
Part three: in which Sharon’s friend comes unwittingly close to uncovering the answer
It’s another Thursday night, maybe around 10 years ago, and I’m talking to two girls in a bar, in the town closest to where I grew up. I can’t even remember what we were talking about. They were both a little younger than me and I was winding them up a little, just a little harmless chat, borderline flirting.
I wish I could remember what I said, but I was obviously being a smart arse and must have used a big word in my #bantz, because the next thing I heard was the inevitable question.
“Are you gay?” By this time, it’s a long time since that question hurt my feelings and usually I just play up to it.
“It’s all just sex in the end, isn’t it?” I flirted, or so I thought.
“Urgh, Sharon!” she exclaimed. “He’s one of them… transsexuals!”
Image by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay