The thing is, I don't know if it's me or what, but honestly: women. See what I mean?
Item: reader's letter: "I was getting myself into quite a state, you know, fancying you and everything, but then I cut out your picture and showed it to my friend and she said, 'Oh, well, he's obviously gay and going to seed fast.' "
Item: another reader's letter: "I thought your sort took care of yourselves, but on the other hand I suppose you are a bit old to be running around a gym and working out."
Item: yet another reader's letter: "I hope you realise that you and Ringo Starr must be the luckiest men in Britain. You are both talentless c**ts. I am outraged."
That last one was from a man, and you'll notice the difference. No hurtful, hidden innuendo, no little daggers driven sneakily into the very core of my fragile self-esteem, just raucous vulgar abuse. Women, eh? Women.
Here's another one. The scene: a party, somewhere near Oxford. Beautiful house, high on a hill. Great big living-room, open fire, wooden deck overlooking the winding rural Thames, probably the best vista in England. The men relaxed, prosperous, though no doubt they too had their troubles. The women soignee, somewhat younger than the men but still game for a laugh or a passing millionaire; tailored short black skirts, legs, shoes with clever heels, newly minted hair. One in particular catches my attention, a nice woman, strong bones, funny, clever, you'll be starting to get the picture, I'm sure.
Well... I suppose God has been trying to tell me something all these years, because the normal response of any heterosexual man in this situation is (a) to chat her up, soothing, beguiling and caressing her with his silver-tongued blandishments and then (b) to make a pass. I haven't the faintest idea how to do either (a) or (b). Can't get the hang of the notion that there's a particular, seductive mode of address you should use, and as for "making a pass", it's as much of a mystery to me as what the hell is really in the Ark of the Covenant. All I can do is natter away and hope that eventually the woman in question will notice that I'm getting rather over-excited and put me out of my misery, and, wow! Look! There goes that flock of pigs, flying past my window yet again.
It won't do. It doesn't work. And yet I can't see any other way. To be a Grand Seducer requires an unassailable sense of physical self-esteem which is simply inaccessible to those of us who see ourselves as short, fat, blob-faced, four-eyed gits. Tall? Dark? Handsome? Excuse me?
Instead, men like me - maybe I'm the only one, but I hope not - end up chattering away like fools, waving our arms around and jabbering wildly about Palestrina and Higgs's Boson and gossiping like poofs when all the time we are yearning to say: "I believe you to be an undiscovered sex goddess, so now I intend to take you into the bushes, where I shall take you to Paradise and back with my Mighty Organ."
Were we tall, dark and handsome, with flat stomachs and chiselled features (are there plastic surgeons for that? Can you just show up with a fistful of tenners, point to your shapeless, ill-defined boat race, and say: "Chisel it"?) we might be able to do so, provided we could abjure the habit of editing our remarks in advance for libel, boasting and hostages-to-fortune. (What if we failed to take her to Paradise, getting stuck at Kensal Green? Can our organ really be described as "mighty"?)
But we aren't. We can't. And over the years, such timorousness multiplies and is amplified, so when a funny, bright woman in clever-heeled shoes says: "So tell me. Are you married? Involved? [Pause.] Single?" we go straight for what engineers call the test-to-destruction and say:
"No. Actually, I'm gay."
Why do we say that? I'll tell you why we say that. We say that in the hope that the response will be: "Nonsense, you great short fat blob-nosed four-eyed hunk, you. You don't fool me. Let us go into the bushes. And you can take me to Paradise and back, with the aid of what I have no doubt is your Mighty Organ." But was that the response? No. The response was:
"Gay? I thought so."
I shan't go into the tantrums which followed, the flouncing and stomping and snarling, the buttonholing of women at random ("Do I seem gay to you?" "Yes."), the pitiful whining all the way back to London, the carnal desert stretching interminably to the grave, or the realisation that when, on his deathbed, John Betjeman said his only regret was "Not enough sex," he had stolen the line intended by God to be my last words. All this is immaterial. The important thing is not to fight fate but to go with the flow, that's what I always say. Or, at least, it's what I am always going to say from now on. If they think I'm gay, well, damn it, I'm going to be gay.
And I'll have a lovely time. I like gay bars. I like the way gay men make an effort with their appearance when they go out. I like their not being Laddish, and their general air of non-combatant amiability. I'm prone to gossiping and campness anyway; none of your "non-scene" assimilation for this boy, thank you. I've noticed that all my gay friends seem to share certain characteristics which I rather respect: a lack of pomposity, an odd kind of awareness, a clear-eyed self-mockery, an innate and dextrous imagination. And my credentials are impeccable: I spoke in favour of Stonewall at the Cambridge Union, at least half of my women-friends are fag-hags already, and, hell, Jasper Conran himself once asked me to marry him. The only problem is that I'm not really very keen on the idea of... well... doing it with other men. But never mind. After all, sex isn't really that important. !