Fag, queer, pouf, name your poison. I conquered these words. I own them. But the union gay/boy twists a nerve.
She's an echo: "You gay boys have such lovely skin." I make the mistake of averting my eyes, scanning the room.
She has a point. The place is packed with Things of Beauty Who Will Be Boys For Ever. Males in their vague twenties, mid-thirties, late forties too, faces smooth and clear, polished, pickled heads riding above broad- shouldered, gym-trim bodies that refuse to bag and sag at Mr Gravity's command. The faces belong to youth, or an ideal of youth, while the bodies, even waxed, shaved and moisturised, are more obviously mature, or, at least, they acknowledge the concept of maturity, though with perfectly preserved reservations and a couple of nipple rings for good luck. Good luck that runs out when the masquerade can no longer be sustained, not even the fetishistic pose of Daddy Stud, and these faces and bodies vanish from Never Never (Grow Old) Land to ... oh, Jesus, the suburbs, probably.
We eat our young: our consenting young, of course. And we spit out our old.
I know what these men's bathrooms look like. Like mine: a branch of Boots. Eye gel, irritant-free toner, sculpture oil, bath creme, gentle scrubs and soapless cleansing bars. Baby care for the Outer Child.
Which may seem queeny to the max, but is actually one of the straightest things about gay men. All males are slaves to visual stimulation - to shallow appearance, ain't that right, girls? Isn't Western Man infatuated with young flesh, pathologically obsessed with, as Bertolucci's latest puts it, Stealing Beauty? Gay men have merely taken that to the extreme, the way they've taken sex to its logical, ultra-masculine conclusion: compulsory. Which is exactly what straight guys would do, given the chance - and have every woman in the world suddenly turn, like totally stoopid overnight.
Only heterosexual men can't, of course. That would be irresponsible - the way gay men are supposed to be irresponsible, or, at least, without responsibility. One reason we're meant to repel the wear and tear of life is because we're removed from the serious business of getting married and raising a family, those pivotal events that we're told signal true adulthood, but, let's be blunt, don't; which doesn't stop our exclusion from the tattered rites condemning us to an adolescence that never really ends. Sure, aren't our intense but "unstable" relationships mere playground couplings where today's bestest friend is tomorrow's ex? They are not really "real".
See - if we had to pay for prams, school fees, little Alison's braces, we'd soon be a lot less ... carefree. And a lot more wrinkled, there being little spare cash for barrels of Nivea, not to mention entire months of painting the town pink in the ghetto that is the subculture that is obviously a sandpit.
No, our adolescence doesn't end. It just ... terminates, a final farewell to that oral/anal stage of infancy Freud assures us dysfunctional gays that we cannot progress beyond anyway.
Which isn't to deny that there isn't something psychologically stunted in the gay psyche. Could be. After all, like children, gay men are obliged to live in someone else's world; the Land of the Giants, where our high, piping, pleading voices are ignored by feckless forces that seldom stop and listen. But, unlike children, gay men never quite ... let's say outgrow that frustrating feeling of being at the mercy of Those Who Preach Do As I Say, Not As I Do.
Is this why gay men are in tune with children? We share a similar, imposed viewpoint - the view from down here. You're simply underfoot, in the way, a distraction from obviously more important matters, and it's an open wound that seldom, possibly never, closes. Not that there aren't advantages: gay sensibility does take a renewing joy in novelty colour and the playful delights of imagination. And in reckless behaviour.
Like Peter Pan.
Perhaps we are Lost Boys. Perhaps circumstances social, economic and psychological have conspired to make us remake. Remake, specifically, alienated childhoods to our satisfaction, buying the toys we want (oh, gays and electronic gadgets), playing dress-up (oh, gay men and uniforms and wearing Mummy's clothes), and, yes, looking one's best, which might be as much about competition as about the rules of attraction. It could even be about competing with Daddy, manufacturing masculinity until you're bigger, stronger, better than him.
Poor Daddy. He'll understand soon enough. If we are partially what we are because we don't know what it's like to be the breadwinner, then what will tomorrow's fathers be? Come the Millennium, with marriage old (picture) hat and one-parent families the probable norm, women will constitute the bulk of a more flexible, and assuredly worse-paid, workforce. Not many men will be "breadwinners", and everything that title entails. Is this why our straight brethren are staying at home longer and longer, extending their adolescence, preferring to spend more of their bread selfishly, narcissistically, on themselves - as preparation for the future where they'll be cute, pleasingly-complexioned luxuries dangling from some high- powered babe's arm? Only when that happens, it'll be cool; it'll be boys being boys, not gay boys being gay boys, no one saying "I lo-o-ove straight boys."