City: the temp

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In the lull before Host has to go and fiddle with bits of rocket in the kitchen, Darryl says 'So, Hugh, how's the new job?' Hugh treats us to a sunny grin. 'Oh, God,' he says, 'It's wonderful. And such a relief.' 'What do you mean?' I ask. Hugh sips his drink. 'I had this really awkward situation in the last place. Nobody knew I was gay.' You're telling me, I think

"Come to dinner," trills my host, "I'm dying for you to meet my new boyfriend. I just know you'll love him". So on a Thursday night I pull on my cleavage, brush out my hair, paint my lips an alluring fuchsia and come face to face with Hugh.

Fortunately, he doesn't recognise me. Women look different in and out of work and no-one notices temps anyway, but I recognise him immediately despite the fact that his hair is gelled, his voice has softened and he's wearing a torso-hugging lumberjack shirt with no sleeves. Blimey. You never would have guessed it at work.

Hugh smiles, bypasses the handshake and kisses me on both cheeks, presses a drink into my hand - he's obviously already at ease in Host's home - and makes some appreciative comment about my dress. I am stunned speechless; I worked for two weeks for Hugh and I don't think we exchanged more than fifty words; he would slouch into my room, plop things in the in-tray and mumble thanks when I brought them back. His colleagues were more communicative, and even learned my name before the time was up. It wasn't a bad place to work, but Hugh displayed all the symptoms of a major attitude problem.

So here is my eye-opener about my own assumptions. In the office, Hugh was the hyper-lad, talking more about sport than anyone else, spending less time on his appearance than anyone else, more prone to "I told you not to call me at work" calls than anyone else. He really annoyed me: I thought his demeanour toward me was related to one-of-the-boys-ishness. Women are always getting wound up by a certain kind of man's refusal to see them as individuals, and Hugh gave the impression of being exactly the type to talk about breasts while standing at a pub urinal. Now it turns out that he's one of a completely different type of boy.

Darryl, the friend who introduced Hugh to Host, arrives with flowers and kisses. We mill around, rearranging ourselves on the sofas and freshening drinks. Once everyone's settled, in the lull before Host has to go and fiddle with bits of rocket in the kitchen, Darryl says "So, Hugh, how's the new job, then?" Hugh treats us to a sunny grin. "Oh, God," he says, "It's wonderful. And such a relief." "I bet," says Johnny. "What do you mean?" I ask. Hugh sips his drink.

"I had this really awkward situation in the last place. Nobody knew I was gay." You're telling me, I think. "D'you mean there would have been a problem?" "That's the stupid thing," says Hugh. "I have absolutely no idea. It could have been perfectly all right for all I know, but I was just too scared to let on. I mean, everyone else there was straight and you just don't know."

Darryl huffs. "Well, you should have just told them, shouldn't you?" Host says "Come on, Darryl, you know it's more complicated than that" and Darryl, who works in the rather more accepting hotel trade, launches into a rant about people who stay in the closet making it more difficult for everyone else. "Look," says Hugh, "I know we've disagreed on this before, but I'm not as brave as you. I turned up there as just another man in a suit and you know how straight guys are when they think they're in straight company, however liberal they are on the surface. A couple of backs-to-the-wall gags and I just couldn't go through with it. You know what the City's like. They still don't promote women because they think they'll have babies and they still don't promote gay men because they think we'll have hysterics. I didn't make the rules, Darryl."

"Yeah," says Darryl, "So instead of proving that it's not true you spend five years behaving like a schizophrenic". "Yes, well," says Hugh, "I got my promotion in a different bank instead and I told them upfront in my interview. At least I know they're not bothered. Anyway," he turns to me and changes the subject, "Tell me about yourself. I'm sure I've seen you somewhere before, but I can't think where."

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