How mail-order men learn the three Ps

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The music could kill. "Hardcore techno!" the DJ shouts, grinning lewdly on "hardcore". Thud, thud, thud. My hands jump to my ears but the sound is already inside - the rhythm is gonna get you. Please someone, bomb the bass. Now.

Bodies move in a darkness, split asunder by strobe explosions, flashing colours and wheels of psychedelic light. The bodies momentarily shine, wiry, compact, dressed in tight jeans and skimpy tops and leather chaps with smooth, hairless bottoms on pert display (vanity, thy name is Immac).

So many men yet all one man - did they mail-order their dimensions? Short hair - squaddie short, butch short - dominates, although there's a pretty boy swaying over in one corner, drugged to the max, dripping blond pre- Raphaelite locks. He looks out of place, like a flower in a factory.

I feel out of place. Painfully. Guys have been hitting on me since I came in. They've left bruises they'll never see; they advance, I retreat (touch me, baby, tainted love). They probably think I'm playing the game, the game of hooded look, body talk, glancing touch, secret smirks.

I'm scared.

I haven't been to a gay bar, a gay disco, a gay anything in ... how many years? Didn't need to. Didn't want to. Was happy. Then ... let's not get into it. The pain is too raw. Only I do want to talk about it, because I can't stop wishing for something I think I can no longer have, can't stop thinking about being brutally jettisoned from contentment (and I was content for life, I thought, dumb and dumber me) into ... this.

I hate it.

Actually, I hate gay men. Loathe them with a snap-frozen passion. I look around (no middle-aged men, no old men, only youth or the carefully tended illusion of it) and can't quite understand how gratification can be so easily confused with fun. A guy shoves past, pausing to give some attitude. I can't see him for the labels - the smell of CK1 (imported aftershave of the hour), the Levi 501s, the John Richmond top. Who are you under all that? Why are you looking for someone who looks exactly the same? Narcissism or safety in numbers?

I haven't hit the bottle in years. But I need a drink. I push through the throng, avoiding eye contact, "playing hard to get". As I hand my money over, I realise I'm feeding the gay urban machine, the hot, throbbing engine of consumerism. For the subculture pivots on the three Ps: purchase, promise and pleasure - though the promise that the purchase will transform you, make you more desirable, happier, is a hollow one, and pleasure keeps flying from your grasp. Because commodities either don't work, date, become obsolete or simply lose their novelty and you have to start at the very beginning (a very bad place to start) again.

At the bar, a bearded man flips a beer mat, over and over. I gaze at the gathered and see a sort of seething, collective Sisyphus, rolling that stone up the hill, always and forever.

I sip and try to make sense, twisting away from the bar when a hand lands on my butt and squeezes; the hand is expert - it might be a sensible housewife testing the firmness of a ripe honeydew.

Another guy approaches. Panic. I pick up a gay freesheet called Boyz (ask yourself why it's not called Grown Upz) and there's all this tanned, hard flesh and jokes about rent boys. I remember a few months ago a friend pointing out a Boyz interview with two rent boys about how they loved their jobs, and their customers, and wasn't it fun, and I put the thing down, think about children running away from home and having to peddle yourself on the streets, and what gay men want to hear, and then I pick up Capital Gay and Stonewall is fighting with Outrage! which is fighting with the universe, so I gulp my 20 per cent proof and shove my way to the loos, fit to burst.

Men cluster around the toilet mirrors. I look at them looking. I see the look hormonally charged teenagers have at the moment they discover their pulling power. They are their own delicious love object. But teenagers get over it. Finally, that love must be let free, so it may flow out, to another. Seeing that look on the faces of men in their late twenties and early thirties and pickled forties is ... just not attractive. And I don't want to hear that gay men have to love themselves that intensely because the big, bad world won't, because there's been plenty of time since Stonewall, since Wolfenden, since Michael Cashman left EastEnders for a balance between needing to love yourself and being a selfish, insular asshole to be struck, otherwise what's the point of progress, of liberation, of coming out?

"Are you alright?" one man says. He smiles. He's the first person to do that all evening.

"No."

"Anything I can do?" He sounds almost sincere.

"No. Not really." I sound angry.

He hesitates, turns away. I catch myself in the mirror behind him and hear the music crash to a climax. I shut my eyes tight. I'm not ready yet.

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